Call to re-join research funding programme

UK Government urged to secure Horizon Europe opportunity.

The UK Government has been urged to immediately secure the UK’s participation in a vital research and funding programme with European nations to avoid further damage to the sector in Scotland.

Higher and Further Education Minister Jamie Hepburn has today written to the Secretary of State for the Department of Science, Innovation and Technology Michelle Donelan MP calling for the UK to formalise access to Horizon Europe.

The UK Government could now fully re-join the scheme following the ‘Windsor Framework’ agreement with the European Union on the Northern Ireland protocol.

Universities and members of the research community in Scotland have missed out in their share of all-important funding provided by the €95.5 billion European research and innovation programme since the UK Government’s decision to pursue a ‘hard Brexit’.

Text of the full letter below:

Dear Michelle,

Congratulations on your appointment as the Secretary of State for the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology.  I look forward to engaging with you in this role.  I hope that the recent department restructure will offer an increased focus on science, research and innovation.

These are matters of utmost importance to Scotland, as I emphasised when I met with Mr Freeman in January.  I shared Scotland’s priorities and ambitions and we agreed on the importance of reaching a solution on the UK’s future in Horizon Europe that protected the interests of the R&I sector.

I was therefore disappointed to learn that £1.6bn of funding originally allocated by the UK Government to facilitate association to EU Programmes has been claimed back by the Treasury.  The decision to surrender this funding threatens the reputation and competitiveness of our R&I sector, risks future access to Horizon Europe and is in direct contradiction to the UK Government’s previous commitment to invest these funds into research and innovation.

I am also concerned that the UK Government appears to be working on the assumption that if we succeed in associating to the Horizon Europe programme, participation will be costed from the point of re-entry, although this has never been guaranteed.  Releasing these funds may therefore jeopardise future prospects of securing full association to the programme.

The timing of this is particularly concerning given it could impede the promising recent progress made on Horizon.  Following the welcome news that an agreement has been reached on the NI protocol via the Windsor Framework, I was pleased to hear Commission President von der Leyen state that UK association to Horizon could begin ‘immediately' once the UK Government implemented the Windsor Framework. 

I would urge the UK Government to urgently seize this opportunity and seek to open discussions on legal association to Horizon as soon as possible.  There is a need to assure the sector that plans are in train to mitigate the loss of the £1.6bn funding, and wider damage caused by Brexit which has been a disaster for universities, students and the research community. In addition to the uncertainty around Horizon, it has ended freedom of movement and, has needlessly, taken us out of the Erasmus+ programme.

Securing Horizon association is a matter of pressing importance to Scotland and it is imperative that efforts to achieve this are progressed as soon as possible.

Kind regards,

Jamie Hepburn


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