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Future options for international collaboration

12 Nov 2019

Sir Adrian Smith, Institute Director and Chief Executive of The Alan Turing Institute, and Graeme Reid, Professor of Science and Research Policy at UCL, set out the findings from their new independent report on international partnership opportunities for UK research and innovation

The UK Government has said repeatedly that it wants the option to participate in Horizon Europe, the EU’s next programme of research funding.  

In their 2015 survey, CaSE and the Engineering Professors’ Council found overwhelming support for continued engagement in EU programmes. This clear consensus has remained – or strengthen further. Meanwhile the UK’s future relationship with the EU remains unclear, as does the shape and scale of Horizon Europe. 

With so much uncertainty, Chris Skidmore – the UK Science Minister – asked us for independent advice.  Our role was to explore UK funding for global collaboration if the UK does not associate with Horizon Europe. We did not assess whether association should go ahead. Our report was published earlier this month.

If the UK Government decides not to associate with Horizon Europe because there are not enough benefits to the UK, then don’t see a case for line-by-line replication in the UK of the arrangements that operate in the EU. 

We do however see compelling arguments for additional UK public investment to stabilise and protect capabilities that have been created through participation in previous EU programmes.  

We heard universal support for the UK to participate in future EU programmes.  However, if association does not happen, we found that alternative arrangements are feasible, albeit with a challenging transition to new arrangements. Whatever the UK’s future relationship with the EU, this is a good time to strengthen international collaboration.

We drew extensively on ideas from the community to set out a vision for future international collaboration.  As first steps this should include:

Strides towards 2.4%, including:

  • Funding competitions to provide big rewards for universities or institutes that attract the largest foreign direct investments in R&D to the UK. 
  • A Global Talent Strategy, combining reforms to immigration policy with programmes to attract and retain talented researchers in the UK. 
  • Substantial additional funding for basic research, recognising that significant levels of such support currently come from EU collaborations.
  • A flagship programme of research fellowships using robust peer review to make large awards over long periods for exceptional researchers in all disciplines in areas they have identified.

Opportunities for all regions of the UK including:

  • Integration of the forthcoming Shared Prosperity Fund (replacing EU structural funds) with the Innovate UK agenda, Devolved Governments and UKRI.
  • Innovate UK also has the potential to manage distinctive new investment streams, responding to any reduction in EU support for UK SMEs.

New funding streams to enabling the research base to capture fast-moving opportunities.

  • Additional quality-related (QR) funding – and devolved equivalents – for the spontaneous, organic collaborations
  • An ‘Agility Fund’ enable the UK to invest in emerging international programmes of significant potential benefit to UK research.
  • Funds to capture opportunities that arise unexpectedly, including during interactions with other countries at Ministerial levels.

International collaboration on this scale would require distinctive administrative structures. We offer the following principles for the design of any new funding structure, some of which already operate in domestic funding arrangements.

  • Robust governance to ensure effective stewardship of public funds and maintain the confidence of BEIS and HMT
  • Independence and transparency to maintain the confidence of new investors from other countries and the research community in the UK
  • Expertise in the distinctive nature of international collaborations as well as access to expertise and administrative support on research and innovation funding
  • Maintain or enhance the diversity of funding sources for research and innovation in the UK
  • Introduce the lowest extra costs of administration consistent with the four principles above.

With stakeholder advice, we identified options for the management of new funding streams, including:

  • A new, stand-alone public body.
  • Allocating the funding across the existing nine councils of UKRI.
  • Creating a new cross-cutting funding stream at the UKRI centre.
  • Creating a new, independent Council within UKRI that would work in collaboration with existing Councils.

Different components of funding might well be managed through different options. Others should explore these options in far more detail before reaching a decision.

Note: Professor Graeme Reid is also Chair of the CaSE Board of Directors

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