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Science is in the interest of community at large 

28 February 2023

Coimbra Group Executive Board

In the face of the countless challenges our societies are currently dealing with, now more than ever science must be addressed as a collective enterprise. This has been precisely the approach followed by the Coimbra Group to respond to the consultation on the ‘Past, present and future of the European Research & Innovation Framework programmes 2014-2027’, the largest assessment exercise ever launched by the European Commission on the EU R&I Framework Programmes (FPs). 

Preparing the CG position paper in the limited time that was imposed on us – less than 3 months, with Christmas season in the middle – has not been an easy undertaking. Even less so as we were keen to make it a collegial effort. However, once again the whole CG community has reacted promptly and positively to that challenge. The work schedule to identify the key messages we wanted to highlight in our contribution has been intense and rewarding at the same time. 

The outstanding results achieved by CG universities under the 8th and the ongoing 9th European FPs position our network as one of the largest players in the field of EU R&I and demonstrate our pivotal position as project implementers as well as our legitimacy as policy contributors. Indeed, in Horizon 2020, CG members participated in 14.4% of all signed grants, whereas so far in Horizon Europe this figure has increased up to 21%. 

The new CG position paper is structured chronologically into three parts: past, present and future. The first section starts with a focus on the positive changes brought by Horizon 2020 in comparison to its predecessors, before highlighting some of its flaws and missed opportunities. There is no doubt that the 8th Framework Programme placed the EU as the world’s largest funder of R&I. The outstanding success of the ERC and the MSCA programmes illustrate the positive impact of fundamental and frontier research, as well as on developing talent at all career stages.  

However, these achievements have proved insufficient to fully meet the European science community needs. The Excellent Science Pillar remained largely underfunded and, despite efforts towards simplification, the (too) wide coverage of H2020 in terms of both topics and instruments added a layer of extra complexity to the programme that ultimately generated an excessive administrative burden for beneficiaries and their institutions. 

In the second section we focus on the present – on Horizon Europe – adopting an implementation and management perspective. Several avenues for improvement have been identified by CG in order to maximize the impact of the current FP. Key components such as evaluation, funding models, Social Sciences and Humanities integration, gender dimension, missions or partnerships, among others, are closely scrutinized. For every single aspect described, we propose a set of concrete recommendations to EU policymakers for the improvement of the upcoming Horizon Europe work programmes. 

The third and last section focuses on the strategic and political aspects for the future, on those changes that we would like to see reflected in the 10th FP. We advocate for key advancements in simplicity and promoting greater synergies with other funding sources; for an improved accessibility and inclusiveness, with special attention to association agreements; for more transparency in the design process and strategic planning; and for a significant increase in the budget, especially for ERC and MSCA programmes. 

As members of the Executive Board, we want to congratulate the whole CG community, at the same time as requesting EU institutions and Member States to carefully listening to us. Once again, our member universities have proven their commitment, not only to a better European R&I landscape, but to society. We have assessed the past and the present to contribute to shape a stronger and more impactful future for R&I. We have a societal responsibility to advocate for research excellence. This is not only about impacting new policies, but also about the well-being of societies and the competitiveness of the European research area in the long run. This is why it is crucial to secure sustainable funding for research. We advocate for science not simply in our own interest, but because it is in the interest of community at large.