As negotiations continue between the UK and EU over Horizon Europe, the largest collaborative research programme in the world, the scientific research community has urged the Prime Minister to secure the UK’s membership as soon as possible.
Figures reported in The Guardian from the European Commission emphasise the importance of the programme to UK research. The data show that in 2019, UK researchers were awarded €959.3m in 1,3643 grants, compared with only €22.18m in 192 grants so far this year.
The UK government has set out plans for its own alternative scheme, ‘The Pioneer’, which will come into effect “if we are not able to secure association on fair and appropriate terms”. In the meantime, it has extended a guarantee to cover all Horizon Europe funding calls until 30 September this year.
In an open letter to the Prime Minister, The President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Professor Sir John Ball, said: “Maintaining research collaborations in the face of uncertainty is very challenging and the Horizon scheme provides a unique solution that delivers international connections and knowledge sharing across borders, with a view to addressing key global challenges.
“If the UK is serious about tackling, and indeed leading on, global challenges such as climate change, we need programmes like Horizon – not just for funding, but for the unparalleled routes to international partnerships.”
Read more about Horizon Europe and the impact of Brexit on UK Life Sciences in our in-depth coverage.
UK losing top junior faculty
A survey carried out by Cancer Research UK has revealed that this lack of access to funding is causing the UK to lose talented young researchers to EU countries. The poll of 84 cancer researchers revealed overwhelming support for the UK to join the £81 billion research scheme, with 75% of respondents favouring association with it.
“We need Horizon Europe very badly,” said Professor Julian Downward, head of the Oncogene Biology Lab at the Francis Crick Institute.
“The current situation is damaging UK science every day. We are losing top junior faculty regularly who decide to move to EU countries so they can take up European Research Council grants. The UK faces a brain drain of scientific talent unless we can make the UK more attractive to international talent. Being able to bid for grants in Horizon Europe is an essential step towards that.”
The poll saw 76% of respondents state that the new UK-EU relationship had caused difficulties in recruiting and retaining research staff.
“Two and a half years of delay has damaged the UK’s reputation as a hub for international collaborative research and investment in life sciences,” said Dr Ian Walker, Executive Director of policy and information at Cancer Research UK. “Cancer scientists are finding it much harder to bring the brightest and best into their labs. Not having access to Horizon Europe on the same terms as researchers in the EU would mean UK scientists at the margins, rather than at the centre, of future funding opportunities.
Cancer Research UK manifesto
The survey was conducted to inform Cancer Research UK’s upcoming Manifesto for Cancer Research and Care, due to be published this November.
In the Manifesto, Cancer Research UK will call on the UK and EU to finalise a deal for the UK to associate to Horizon Europe, and future funding programmes, if an agreement is not reached by then. It will also include proposals to attract international researchers, by cutting the costs of visas in line with comparable European countries.
“Association to Horizon Europe is overwhelmingly in the best interests of people living with cancer, and the scientists and clinicians researching new ways to beat it,” Walker added. “The UK and EU must now work intensively to unlock association to Horizon Europe and end the delays that have frustrated scientists and damaged the UK’s reputation as a science leader and an investment location. Time is of the essence.”
By Diana Spencer, Senior Digital Content Editor, Drug Discovery World