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The EU and UK are launching a joint push to get more British researchers to sign up to the £80bn Horizon science programme amid concerns about a drop-off in applications amid post-Brexit uncertainty.
i understands that the EU has concerns that three years outside the scheme, plus the uncertainty caused by Rishi Sunak’s initial hesitancy to rejoin last year, has caused confusion among potential applicants, including younger researchers, and wants to boost the numbers.
While applications from UK-based researchers for European Research Council (ERC) schemes increased by 52 per cent for starting grants, and 36 per cent for consolidator grants last year, it came after a significant drop in 2023, and is still below 2022 levels when access to funding was restricted with Britain operating outside Horizon since 2021.
The UK was widely expected to rejoin Horizon after the Prime Minister’s Windsor Framework deal on Northern Ireland helped persuade the EU to lift a block on full participation. However, Mr Sunak delayed signing up to the scheme so he could extract a better deal on British budget contributions.
The association agreement agreed last year meant British researchers could again participate on par with their EU counterparts.
Iliana Ivanova, the European Commissioner for research, warned on Monday that the UK should ease visa procedures or risk missing out on the full benefits of Horizon, including the separate Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) scheme for doctoral education and postdoctoral training of researchers across Europe.
She told the Financial Times: “We are having some difficulties with European researchers going to the UK due to some visa issues and also higher costs that I’m going to raise with the British side.”
The commissioner and the UK’s Science and Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan will make a joint call to maximise British participation in Horizon for businesses, scientists and researchers.
In an article for i, Ms Ivanova said: “The good news is that since 1 January, researchers and businesses in the UK are able to participate in Horizon Europe on par with their EU counterparts and have access to EU funding.
“My message to British researchers and innovative businesses is simple and clear: Apply!
“Don’t miss this huge opportunity.”
Speaking ahead of a joint event with Ms Ivanova at the Royal Society, Ms Donelan said: “The UK’s bespoke deal on Horizon has opened up a whole world of opportunity for our researchers, from the £80bn funding that’s available, to the vast benefits that come from working hand-in-hand with colleagues from Europe to Canada to New Zealand.
“From grants to support UK applicants to our Horizon comms blitz, we are determined to do all we can together with our European colleagues to seize this moment, and all it could do to help our brightest minds deliver jobs, growth, and breakthroughs that will make life better for us all.”