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From Horizon Europe to Plan B: How the UK can turn adversity into opportunity

  • 29 September 2022
  • By Marco Cavallaro

The European Union’s Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, Horizon Europe, will soon start its third year but UK participation remains uncertain.

This uncertainty, arising originally from the outcome of the Brexit referendum and now prolonged by the dispute over the Northern Ireland Protocol, has led to less participation in EU-funded projects in the UK. 

With hopes for a full association fading fast, the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has outlined details of transitional measures and a long-term alternative to Horizon Europe, so-called ‘Plan B’.

Nearly £7 billion was set aside in 2021 for either association with Horizon Europe or Plan B, but there are fears that the longer the uncertainty continues, then some of this funding could be at risk.

In Horizon Europe and Plan B research funding: Turning adversity into opportunity (HEPI Policy Note 38), Marco Cavallaro of the Università della Svizzera Italiana in Switzerland argues full association with Horizon Europe remains preferable but provides a checklist for making Plan B work, including:

  • incentivising the participation of less well-resourced UK universities in European research and innovation, for example through staff exchange schemes;
  • allowing greater freedom for individual researchers to devise their own research topics;
  • co-funding schemes between the UK Government and the private sector for applied research projects;
  • minimising bureaucracy with short and simple applications; and
  • guaranteeing EU-based entities’ eligibility for UK funding, at least in specific areas, to help pave the way for regaining full association.

The author of the report, Marco Cavallaro, said:

Although the full association to Horizon Europe remains the best option, Plan B can be an opportunity to learn from the research funding literature and make more attractive, inclusive and less onerous grant schemes.

The Director of HEPI, Nick Hillman, said:

It is extraordinary that there was no dedicated Minister for Science at Westminster over the whole summer. It is now vital the new administration ends the uncertainty over Horizon Europe and the alternative Plan B.

If full participation in Horizon Europe is not possible – despite being the clear preference of the UK research community – then we must make the best of Plan B. This new HEPI research usefully explains how this might be done.

The stakes are high for the UK research landscape, so we need to get Plan B right. We cannot afford to dilly-dally any longer because absolutely no one wants to see a Plan C or a Plan D.

Professor Graeme Reid, Chair of Science and Research Policy at University College London (UCL) and a former adviser to the UK Science Minister on frameworks for international collaboration in R&D, said:

This is a timely paper on an issue of great interest and importance. The research and innovation community have called for UK association with Horizon Europe consistently.

The UK Government has given unwavering support for UK association while also providing sizeable resources for alternative arrangements, in case association is not possible.

With prospects for association now receding further, it is important that we debate in more detail the practicalities of Plan B.  This paper from HEPI makes a helpful contribution to that debate.

Notes for Editors

  1. HEPI was established in 2002 to influence the higher education debate with evidence. We are UK-wide, independent and non-partisan. We are funded by organisations and higher education institutions that wish to support vibrant policy discussions, as well as through our own events. HEPI is a company limited by guarantee and a registered charity.
  1. Marco Cavallaro is a Doctoral Student at the Institute of Communication and Public Policy of the Università della Svizzera Italiana (sometimes known as the University of Lugano). His research focuses on competition mechanisms in the European Union’s Framework Programmes for Research and Innovation. He is the co-author of ‘Institutional barriers to participation in EU framework programs: contrasting the Swiss and UK cases’ published in the journal Scientometrics.

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