Britain must seek to protect research funding for its universities when it leaves the European Union or risk losing its leading role in innovation, one of the country’s main employer groups said on Wednesday (6 September).
The UK should negotiate an “associated country” status which would allow it to continue to participate in EU research programmes once it is no longer a member of the bloc, the Confederation of British Industry said.
“Today EU schemes make up a sixth of our total research funding,” Carolyn Fairbairn, director general of the CBI, said.
“Replacing that would be a real challenge. But this isn’t just about money – it is about international leadership and giving the UK a voice in setting standards,” Fairbairn, added in excerpts of a speech she is due to deliver to universities.
The EU’s main programme for funding research, technology and innovation – called Horizon 2020 – has €80 billion available in funding between 2014 and 2020 to countries within the bloc and beyond.
Norway and Switzerland for instance have negotiated a third-party agreement with Horizon 2020, and make project-specific contributions to the EU allowing their universities to take part in EU-funded research programmes.
Prime Minister Theresa May’s government was due to publish a Brexit position paper on science and innovation on Wednesday, setting out its stance for talks with the rest of the EU.
The Institute of Directors, another employers group, called on the government to continue making payments into the EU budget in order to maximise Britain’s access to the bloc’s research programmes, and for London to allow free movement of EU academics to reduce the risk of restrictions on its involvement.
This would be a controversial move for the UK government, which has so far refused to recognise reports that it is willing to pay €40 billion to exit the EU.
The UK’s participation in other science-related activities such as the European Space Agency (ESA) will be unaffected by Brexit because ESA is autonomous from the EU. However, Britain will have to renegotiate terms to continue participating in certain projects like the Copernicus satellite system to monitor environmental damage and boost disaster relief.
Shortly after the Brexit vote, the UK Treasury said it will underwrite business and academic funding for approved Horizon 2020 projects after Britain leaves the EU.
The pledge from the government to future proof funding streams will ensure the UK can still innovate, even if it loses access to the €80bn Horizon 2020 pot.
Horizon 2020 is the EU's biggest ever research and innovation framework with a seven-year budget worth nearly €80 billion running in 2014-2020.