Education & Family

UK university leaders lobby Brussels on research cuts

European Commission exterior
Image caption Universities fear cuts to a Europe wide research fund will damage innovation

More than 50 UK university leaders will travel to Brussels on Monday to lobby European policymakers against possible cuts to research funding.

The group, led by Prof Sir Steve Smith, Vice-Chancellor of Exeter University, fears for the future of the European Union's Horizon 2020 research fund.

The EU is considering plans to divert some research money to a more broadly based strategic investment fund.

Universities across Europe say this would harm research and innovation.

Under the proposals some £1.95bn (2.7bn euros) of the money previously earmarked for research in Horizon 2020 could be transferred into the European Strategic Investment Fund (EFSI), says the umbrella group Universities UK.

The European Commission argues that the transfer will widen the range of institutions and businesses which can benefit from the money and boost entrepreneurship, jobs and growth.

It describes EFSI as "a major step toward job creation and growth in the European economy".

Competitive process

Horizon 2020 was only launched last year and at the outset was worth nearly £67bn (80bn euros) over seven years, to the end of 2020.

The funds are allocated through a competitive process, in which Britain traditionally fares very well, second only to Germany.

UK universities, research centres and businesses were expected to receive £2bn in the first two years of the scheme.

This amounts to just over a fifth of the total British government spend on science.

Vice-chancellors are understandably concerned about any threat to this source of income.

"EU research funding enables UK universities to pursue large scale, high-impact transnational research projects which stimulate direct foreign investment and contribute to growth and competitiveness in the UK and the EU," said Prof Smith, who is also chairman of Universities UK's international policy network.

"It is of fundamental importance that long-term and reliable EU research funding is protected and prioritised.

"The UK should play a leadership role in policy development and ensuring sustainable EU investment in this area."

'Performance loss'

Prof Smith said the fact that so many vice-chancellors had joined the delegation highlighted the extent of their concerns and the importance of EU funding to higher education in the UK.

In a statement last December universities from across Europe warned that properly funded research was a "prerequisite for innovation", and cuts would risk "performance loss".

The proposal was adopted in a legislative proposal by the European Commission in January and the European Parliament is due to vote on it in a few weeks time.

The Universities UK delegation includes vice-chancellors from the universities of Cardiff, Exeter, Aberdeen, Sunderland, Leicester and Plymouth.

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