As things stand, the United Kingdom is set to leave the European Union on 31 October with or without a deal in place. Last week, the British Prime Minister made an announcement which included a mention on the UK’s immediate future in Horizon 2020. Though the statement concerning the participation in Horizon 2020 conveys reassurance, there are a few things we’ve learnt from the past that might come as a warning sign for UK based researchers.
UK Research and Innovation to cover funding
Of the press release only a single paragraph concerns the immediate future of the UK as part of Horizon 2020 (in fact, this is the only mention of the programme):
“In the event we leave without a deal, the government will ensure any Horizon 2020 applications stuck in the approval process when the UK leaves, will instead be automatically reviewed by UKRI - with successful applications provided with funding.”
This rather short mention will likely not cover most of the researchers` questions. Fortunately, the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) have provided FAQs on the situation. However, due to the many uncertainties surrounding Brexit, many questions are not answered in a definitive way as of yet.
The 2014 Swiss referendums as a warning sign?
As a Swiss company, we are unfortunately experienced in having been partly excluded from Horizon 2020. A 2014 referendum which restricted the freedom of movement meant that Swiss universities were for example excluded from applying for Marie Curie Innovative Training Networks (ITNs), from the prestigious ERC grants and from the SME Instrument. As a consequence, Swiss universities and SMEs missed out on potentially hundreds of millions in funding. Only in collaborative projects, notably in Research and Innovation Actions (RIAs), Innovation Actions (IAs) and Coordination and Support Actions (CSAs) within the two pillars “Industrial Leadership” and “Societal Challenges”, Swiss organisations were allowed to participate and received funded from the Swiss State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI). Additionally Swiss students were also excluded from the popular Erasmus exchange programme. After three years, during which the referendum was adopted without introducing quotas on EU citizens, Switzerland regained its fully associated status.
In the case of a no-deal Brexit a similar situation is to be expected. The situation in Switzerland showed us how seriously the freedom of movement is taken. UK based universities would likely be missing out on funding opportunities despite the reassurances given by their government.
What will happen with current submissions?
Unfortunately UKRI can’t, as of today, reassure researchers who are currently in the process of a submission or have unevaluated proposals. Unfortunately they do confirm the possibility that a otherwise successfully evaluated proposal might be disregarded post Brexit. Whilst they do pledge to cover any successful proposals, they don’t elaborate on what will happen if the project is part of a programme from which the UK has been excluded.
Beyond Horizon 2020, what about Horizon Europe?
Horizon Europe is Horizon 2020’s successor promising an evening larger budget. Will the UK be associated to Horizon Europe? At this point, we simply can’t say. As of now, the UK government is considering alternatives to Horizon Europe as they want the option to be a fully associated to the programme. One partner the UK might have going forward is Switzerland as the Swiss government has pledged to explore the possibility of a more intensive cooperation in due course.