Colossal win for UK’s science, research and business communities as association to Horizon research programme officially sealed

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"Being part of Horizon and Copernicus is a colossal win for the UK’s science, research and business communities, as well as for economic growth and job creation" - Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology Michelle Donelan. Photo credit: UK Gov. CC BY 3.0 DEED

The UK’s association to the world-leading Horizon and Copernicus programmes has been officially sealed today (Monday 4 December), as Science and Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan visits Brussels to turbo-charge efforts to maximise UK involvement.

This deal is set to create and support thousands of new jobs as part of the next generation of research talent. It will help deliver the Prime Minister’s ambition to grow the economy and cement the UK as a science and technology superpower by 2030.

As part of the new deal negotiated over the last six months, the Prime Minister secured improved financial terms of association to Horizon that are right for the UK – increasing the benefits to UK scientists, value for money for the UK taxpayer.

The Secretary of State has met with the EU Research and Innovation Commissioner Iliana Ivanova, as officials signed the agreement to formalise the bespoke deal secured by the UK Prime Minister in September. She will also meet political, science and business leaders as well as research communities from both the UK and the EU in Brussels today, as part of events to mark the completion of the final steps to the UK’s formal association.

Today’s events are just the start of a concerted push for UK businesses and researchers to seize the enormous opportunity presented by working in the world’s largest programme of research cooperation, alongside their EU, Norwegian, and Israeli colleagues and more, with Canada set to also join soon.

Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology Michelle Donelan said: 

Being part of Horizon and Copernicus is a colossal win for the UK’s science, research and business communities, as well as for economic growth and job creation – all part of the long-term decisions the UK government is taking to secure a brighter future. 

The UK led a quarter of the work we were involved in through Horizon’s predecessor, so we know from recent history the importance of the UK’s skills and expertise in making this programme work, and it is vital that we seize this moment.

Now it is essential that we bring our science, research and business communities together with their EU and global partners to deliver the benefits from our bespoke Horizon and Copernicus deal, from our share of the 300,000 new jobs Horizon aims to create, to the untold advances it will unlock for our health, the environment and more. 

Iliana Ivanova, European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, said:

I am happy to welcome the UK back to the Horizon family. This is a real milestone, a clear win-win for both sides and for global scientific progress. Together, we can push further and faster. I have made association of non-EU countries to Horizon Europe my personal priority, and we are delivering.

Professor Julia Black, President of the British Academy, said:

From researchers embarking onto the early stages of their career, to cross-disciplinary teams collaborating to tackle key issues, to research bodies and funders like us: we all welcome today’s Association to Horizon Europe.

It is particularly welcome for UK-based humanities and social sciences researchers who have traditionally had a strong record of success and collaboration in EU Framework Programmes for Research & Innovation, including through the world-leading European Research Council.

We strongly encourage researchers, businesses and innovators across the broad arc of our disciplines to seek out the opportunities opened up by Association. They carry with them tangible, long-term benefits for people and society.

Vivienne Stern MBE, chief executive of Universities UK, said:

This is a momentous day. I am beyond delighted that the UK and EU have finally signed the agreement confirming the UK’s association to Horizon. This is a win-win. The UK scientific community has a huge contribution to make to the generation of new knowledge as an associated country, and also stands to benefit from the opportunity to work seamlessly with researchers all over the world, in the EU and beyond it.

All of society benefits when researchers can work together to solve the big challenges we all face, whether that is rare disease, or climate change or a host of other important topics. I warmly congratulate the government and the Commission on reaching this agreement. Now we’re ready to shoot out of the gate and make the most of the opportunities participation in Horizon offers.

Professor Adam Tickell, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Birmingham, said:

Horizon is the pre-eminent vehicle for scientific collaboration across and beyond Europe and Association means that the UK’s researchers and companies can participate fully.  I have no doubt that this will allow the UK’s scientific community to play their part in exceptional scientific outcomes, allowing us to tackle some of the trickiest challenges of our time.

With participation in Horizon fulfilling a top ask from the UK science community, the moment is now for the UK’s best-in-class research expertise to bring to bear on global challenges from tackling climate change to treating cancer. Researchers, academics, and businesses of all sizes can confidently bid for a share of the more than £80 billion available through the two programmes, with calls for the 2024 Work Programme already open. It builds on the government’s record-breaking backing for R&D, with a commitment to invest £20 billion in UK R&D by 2024-25, borne out in recent announcements like the £500 million boost to the AI Research resource and £50 million for battery manufacturing R&D, announced in the Autumn Statement.

Today sees the convening of the UK-EU Specialised Committee, which signs off the UK’s association to Horizon and Copernicus, the final step to UK association. Under the bespoke deal secured by the Prime Minister, new financial protections for the British taxpayer, especially in the first years of association when UK scientists’ participation will be recovering, ensures:

  • UK taxpayers will not pay for the time where UK researchers have been excluded from since 2021, with costs starting from January 2024 – delivering much better terms for 2023. This will also provide breathing space to boost the participation of UK researchers in open calls for grants before we start paying into the programme.
  • The UK will have a new automatic clawback that protects the UK as participation recovers from the effects of the last two and a half years. It means the UK will be compensated should UK scientists receive significantly less money than the UK puts into the programme. This wasn’t the case under the original terms of association.

Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) will shortly launch a communications campaign to maximise participation in Horizon and Copernicus from researchers, academics and businesses of all sizes in the UK. This PR push will shine a light on the real-world examples of the benefits Horizon and Copernicus participation can deliver for academics, researchers and businesses, right across the UK – particularly small and medium-sized businesses involved in R&D, which might not have previously considered applying.

Alongside this, in a partnership with the British Academy and other key backers, support will be made available to selected UK researchers applying for Horizon for the first time, through ‘pump priming’ funding, with up to £10,000 available per application. The funding will be available to support those researchers who have not previously had experience, including next generation researchers. The fund will be targeted to ensure it maximises the UK’s involvement in Horizon.

Encouraging smaller businesses to pitch for, and win, Horizon and Copernicus funding supports DSIT’s aim to help the UK’s promising science and tech firms scale-up and grow. Officials will work closely with key sector stakeholders to ensure this message reaches businesses of all kinds, who might not have previously considered applying, as well as researchers and academics in every part of the country. 

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