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UK association to Horizon Europe – a win for global research

30 November 2023

Professors Peter Mathieson, Karen O’Brien and Evelyn Welch, Vice-Chancellors of the Universities of Edinburgh, Durham and Bristol, respectively

The announcement, on 7 September 2023, that the United Kingdom (UK) and the European Commission had reached an agreement on UK association to Horizon Europe has rightly been met with a sigh of relief and the warmest of welcomes across the research-intensive university sector. We are delighted that we finally have the breakthrough that we have all been working so hard to achieve.

This agreement has now also received the approval of the Council of the European Union which on 15 November gave its green light to the UK participation in Horizon Europe without any discussion. The last remaining step to formalise the agreement is for the EU-UK Specialised Committee on Participation in Union programmes to adopt a decision on the current EU R&I Framework Programme. This is expected to happen before the end of this year.

As of 1 January 2024, researchers and organisations in the UK will be able to participate in Horizon Europe on equal terms with their counterparts in the EU member states.

Right from the start, the Coimbra Group has been united in arguing that UK association to Horizon Europe is the best route to maintaining and developing academic cooperation between the UK and the rest of the continent, post-Brexit. This was obvious in 2016, and it remains true in 2023. We are very grateful for all of the lobbying by the Coimbra Group and others to secure this outcome.

Incentivising our scientists to work together, irrespective of borders, is in everyone’s interests and we will spare no effort in making the UK association to Horizon Europe a success. This deal is a true win-win for the UK and for Europe more generally, and it will yield wider global benefits.

The Framework Programmes supported through the European Commission have been the basis of scientific collaboration for over thirty years, supporting ground-breaking research and achieving major successes in such fields as the early detection of ovarian cancer and the development of clean energy networks. Like the previous programmes, Horizon Europe will not only enable us to tackle global challenges and deliver transformative blue-skies research and innovation. It will also support the development of staff and build capacity to deliver world-changing research and impact for partners around the globe.

While Bristol has continued to see ERC success since Brexit, association gives all of our researchers the confidence in the long-term nature of the networks they are creating in AI and Heath.  For Durham, as demonstrated by our role in a €11m Horizon Europe Cluster 5 project to develop an integrated energy system which will remove dependence on fossil fuels, association will give renewed vigour to current and future cooperation with Europe. At Edinburgh, our Horizon Europe Revitalising Collaboration seed fund scheme will enable our researchers to nurture European collaborations with the goal of developing Horizon Europe collaborative funding applications especially for Pillar 2.

We need now to seize these opportunities. That means coordinating communications about UK association to give researchers certainty about what Horizon Europe has to offer and confidence to collaborate across borders.  Here it will be particularly important to foster links between our researchers, and in particular our early career researchers, as they address the long-term challenges affecting our societies. We also recognise that there is more to be done to encourage stronger educational collaborations between the UK and the EU including but not limited to the return of access to Erasmus Plus for UK universities. The Coimbra Group has an important role to play in this respect.

The Coimbra Group embodies our shared values, common interests, and combined research and educational excellence. These qualities lay at the heart of the case we made together for UK association to Horizon Europe. However, we must recognise that association is simply a means to an end.  That end is achieving major research goals, thereby securing a win for global research, and creating further opportunities for our students, staff and partners.