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The UK’s waning involvement in Horizon 2020

26 Jul 2018

James Tooze reflects on the UK’s participation in Horizon 2020

It is no secret that the UK has greatly benefitted from full participation in European Union research funding programmes. UK organisations and researchers received over €7bn worth of funding from Framework Programme 7 between 2007 and 2013 and have so far captured over €4.6bn in Horizon 2020 grants. The nature of the UK’s future relationship with the EU and the successor programme to Horizon 2020, Horizon Europe, remain up in the air. In 2016 the Chancellor pledged to underwrite Horizon 2020 grants awarded to UK recipients after the UK leaves the EU. With Government ramping up contingency planning for ‘no deal’ in recent weeks, there were many concerns about what that means. In our meetings with officials they’ve been very keen to reiterate that planning for no deal is part of them taking a responsible approach to planning but that it is not what they’re working to as a preferable or likely outcome. So this week the Rt Hon Liz Truss, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, made a statement adding to the previous underwrite guarantee saying:

“…the Treasury is extending the government’s guarantee of EU funding to underwrite the UK’s allocation for structural and investment fund projects under this EU Budget period to 2020. The Treasury is also guaranteeing funding in event of a no deal for UK organisations which bid directly to the European Commission so that they can continue competing for, and securing, funding until the end of 2020. This ensures that UK organisations, such as charities, businesses and universities, will continue to receive funding over a project’s lifetime if they successfully bid into EU-funded programmes before December 2020.”

This confirmation is welcome. There is still a general sense of unease around what the future holds for UK participation in EU science programmes. This seems to be reflected in UK participation outlined in statistics released by the UK Government which provide an insight in to how the UK has interacted with the programme since the Brexit vote. The statistics show that the UK share of participations and share of funding received have decreased over the past 18 months. In September 2016, the UK had the largest share of participations in projects but now the UK ranks second behind Germany. The statistics in these tables relate to the lifetime of the programme up until the stated month, not just statistics for the stated month.

UK participation in Horizon 2020; Sep 16 – May 18
 Share of total participationsRank in participationsShare of total EC fundingRank in funding
September 201613.3%1st15.3%2nd
February 201712.8%1st15.4%2nd
May 201712.8%1st15.3%2nd
September 201712.6%2nd14.9%2nd
February 201812.4%2nd14.5%2nd
May 201812.4%2nd14.3%2nd

It is also possible to compare different types of organisations that interact with Horizon 2020 and how these have changed since September 2016. The most recent release of data shows that while UK Higher and Secondary education establishments remain the largest recipients of Horizon 2020 projects and funding of any equivalent sector of all participating countries, UK private for-profit organisations have a decreasing share of funding.

UK share of total participations by project participant organisation type:

 September 2016May 2018
 Share of total participationsRank in participationsShare of total participationsRank in participations
Private for-Profit entities10.8%49.7%5
Research Organisations4.7%64.5%7
Public bodies7.8%36.9%4
Higher or secondary education establishments22.9%122.0%1

 UK share of total EC funding by project participant organisation type:

 September 2016May 2018
 Share of total EC fundingRank in fundingShare of total EC fundingRank in funding
Private for-Profit entities11.7%29.7%5
Research Organisations5.3%54.9%6
Public bodies13.5%111.2%2
Higher or secondary education establishments25.3%124.2%1

As a sense of perspective for the levels of funding received by each organisation type as of May 2018, Private for-profit received €890m, Research Organisations €407m, Public bodies €136m, Higher or secondary education establishments €3,070m and other organisations €145m.

It is difficult to link these trends directly to the result of the referendum but what is clear is that the UK is engaging less with Horizon 2020. It could be due to UK researchers being less proactive about involvement. Or due to the collaborative nature of many Horizon 2020 projects, coordinated by multiple organisations in different countries, it could mean that potential collaborators may be put off working with UK counterparts. Despite assurances and existing rules, uncertainty does seem to be having an effect.

This summer is a very active period for scrutinising proposals on Horizon 2020’s successor, Horizon Europe, which has begun the legislative journey through the European Parliament. The end result of that legislation will affect what they programme looks like and rules around participation, influence and scope. The draft regulations have left the door open for the UK to participate should it provide appropriate fiscal contributions. The UK Government has publicly stated it wishes to continue to participate in European programmes but no agreement has been reached. There’s a long way to go yet.