On 7 February 2023, the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology was formed. The new Secretary of State, Michelle Donelan has a long to do list. This includes ongoing negotiations for UK association with Horizon Europe, measures to plug funding gaps and fulfilling the government’s aim of the UK being a science superpower. So, with all this change what is the government doing to support funding in the R&D sector?
The Horizon Europe guarantee scheme
The scheme fills a gap while negotiations continue for UK association with European programmes: Horizon Europe, Euratom and Fusion for Energy. Currently, UK innovators can apply for Horizon Europe funding, but successful applicants can’t sign grant agreements to access EU funding. This catch-22 led to the UK government’s funding guarantee.
Launched in March 2021, the Horizon Europe guarantee scheme gives funding:
- To the UK host institution
- For the full value of the Horizon Europe award
- For the lifetime of the grant
Following an extension announced in December 2022, the scheme now covers all Horizon Europe “calls” for research proposals which close on or before 31 March 2023.
The EU has linked UK association to resolving EU-UK negotiations over the Northern Ireland Protocol to the Withdrawal Agreement. Negotiations continue and we’ll see whether these will be resolved by the symbolic 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement on 10 April 2023.
Other funding opportunities
While negotiations continue, the government has recognised uncertainty in the R&D sector and stressed there will be no funding gap. One plug to fill the gap is the government’s commitment to invest £484 million in research funding. Announced in November 2022, the funding will support staff retention and local talent strategies at eligible universities and research organisations.
The package includes:
- A fund to enable universities to strengthen research capabilities
- A boost to the UK’s research infrastructure base, including the worlds class labs fund
- Support for the fusion industry programme.
A breakdown of the package can be found on Government commits nearly half a billion pounds for UK research to cover EU shortfall - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk).
The government has also committed £119m to an International Science Partnerships Fund. This aims to deepen collaboration between the UK and international R&D powers, supporting UK innovators to work with worldwide peers on the issues of the day. One project is a UK-Japan research collaboration in neuroscience, neurodegenerative disease and dementia. Further details can be found in the government’s announcement UK Science and Technology Minister launches new global international science partnership funding in Tokyo with initial £119m of funding - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
If Plan A, to associate with EU programmes does not work out, the government is ready to move to plan B. The ring-fenced fund allocated to EU programmes of £6.8 billion would move with it.
A range of transitional measures to prepare for Plan B were announced in July 2022. These include funding for eligible, evaluated Horizon Europe applications and successful “in-flight” applications. UK entities who have made unevaluated, eligible applications to Horizon Europe to calls which have closed, or remain open at the time of non-association (so are “in flight”) will be evaluated on a UK level. The best will receive funding.
Horizon Europe calls open to UK researchers as third country participants will be supported until 31 March 2025. These are consortia of three or more applicants from EU member states or associated countries, plus a third country participant. The third country applicant must fund itself, but the government will sign grant agreements to fund eligible UK entities participating in such consortia until 31 March 2025. Approximately two thirds of Horizon Europe calls are open to third country applicants, so this is an important funding stream for researchers.
Go it alone?
In her first announcement since becoming Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, Michelle Donelan said “If we cannot associate, we are more than ready to go it alone with our own global-facing alternative, working with science powerhouses like the US, Switzerland, and Japan to deliver international science collaborations.” [Turner C, 11 February 2023, UK set to snub EU Horizon scheme for new international alliance, The Telegraph].
Ms Donelan has promised to set out the UK position on Horizon in the coming weeks, so it looks like clarity on association, or a full move to plan B is coming. Let’s hope the creation of a new government Department means long term commitment to science, technology and innovation with new opportunities for funding and growth.
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