In a new agreement with the EU, the UK rejoins Horizon Europe, the world’s largest research collaboration programme, along with Copernicus programmes and the European Earth Observation programme, both of which the UK has been excluded from over the past three years. Following the start date of Thursday 7 September 2023, UK researchers can now join projects under the Horizon programme by bidding and applying for grants. The UK will continue as an associated member for the remainder of the programme until 2027. However, the UK will still pursue a domestic fusion energy strategy instead of joining the EU’s Euratom programme.
UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak secured new financial terms for both Horizon Europe and the Copernicus programmes. Taxpayers will not pay for the three-year period of exclusion and instead start costs in January 2024. Additionally, the UK possesses an automatic clawback as research participation recovers; compensation will be provided to the UK if their scientists earn significantly less money than the UK invests.
Prime Minister Sunak said, “We have worked with our EU partners to make sure that this is the right deal for the UK, unlocking unparalleled research opportunities, and also the right deal for British taxpayers.”
This source of international collaboration with the EU also creates potential avenues for cooperation with other countries in the programme such as, like Israel, Norway, and New Zealand. Canada and Korea have shown interest in joining as well.
Michelle Donelan, the Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology said, “The Horizon programme is unrivalled in its scope and opens up a world of opportunity for cooperation on science that delivers real-world benefits for the UK - creating jobs, boosting our economy and opening up collaboration for the sector with some of our closest partners, whether on tackling climate change or advancing cancer research.”
“This deal is a crucial step forward on our mission to become a science and tech superpower by 2030,” Donelan added.
The deal boosts opportunities for research and global engagement at the university level.
“The research community on both sides of the Channel are raring to go and will spare no effort in making our association a success,” Chief Executive of the Russell Group, Dr Tim Bradshaw said.
“Universities have plans in place to get researchers to apply and our partner universities and businesses across the EU – and in other associated countries – are eager to work with our institutions. We will be ready to work with government and the Commission to make the most of Horizon’s opportunities from day one and beyond into its successor.”
President of Universities UK (UUK), Professor Dame Sally Mapstone, added, “Horizon Europe has been the basis of scientific collaboration for over 30 years. From early detection of ovarian cancer to developing clean energy networks involving dozens of universities and many industrial partners, Horizon lets us do things that would not be possible without that scale of collaboration.”
The Academy of Medical Sciences, the British Academy, the Royal Academy of Engineering, and the Royal Society issued a joint statement which said, “This is a great day for researchers in the UK and across Europe. The Horizon programme is a beacon of international collaboration and UK-based academic and industrial researchers will now be back at the heart of that.”
Even with the end of the association in 2027, this technological alliance is a potentially encouraging sign for the UK’s involvement in later ventures.
“We hope that this deal paves the way for the UK’s ongoing participation in future European research programmes,” Michelle Mitchell, Chief Executive of Cancer Research UK, commented.
“It is essential that the European Commission, the UK Government and UK research funders work with urgency to rebuild the strong position the UK occupied in the Horizon programme, and get funds and global collaboration flowing again into our research institutions.”
Illustration: Magdalena Yiacoumi