Calls to protect EU research and exchange funding

Universities and individuals – who have been signing a petition at a rate of 4,000 a day – have called on Europe’s political leaders to protect the Horizon 2020 research and Erasmus for All exchange initiatives at an upcoming European Council budget summit.

Heads of state are due to discuss the long-term budget for 2014-20 and Multi-annual Financial Framework research organisation on 22-23 November, following a call of the Cypriotic chair of the European Union (EU) to adjust budgets downwards.

Lobbying to keep research and higher education budgets outside the cuts started in October, when 44 Nobel laureates and field medallists wrote an open letter to heads of state and presidents of European research organisations warning of the damage that would be wreaked.

Particularly, the European Research Council programme had “achieved global recognition… It funds excellent people, excellent projects. It valuably complements national funding of fundamental research”, the letter said.

A petition was launched to mobilise the research community against the potential budget cuts, aimed at young scientists, learned societies and concerned citizens.

By Friday the petition had more than 124,000 signatures, with some 4,000 being added every 24 hours.

In a statement on Thursday addressed to heads of state and government, the European University Association (EUA) outlined why it was crucial for the huge Horizon 2020 research and Erasmus for All exchange programmes to be given high priority in budget negotiations.

“The ‘Europe 2020 Strategy’ goals of achieving smart and sustainable growth have to be built on enhancing research and development, human resources and skills to deliver the new products and services that Europe must offer to remain globally competitive,” said the EUA statement.

“Europe’s global and regional competitors are not waiting. They are investing heavily in universities and the next generation of young people who will be the innovators of tomorrow.

“In Europe today we are at risk of marginalising ourselves and losing out in the competition through creating a ‘lost generation’ of young people as a result of under-investment in higher education and research,” it added.

In particular, the statement sends three key messages to heads of state and government.

First, it stresses that frequently stated political rhetoric that emphasises the central role of education, research and innovation in Europe’s future competitiveness needs to be backed up by commitment and action by EU member states.

Second, it argues that increased investment in higher education and research to mobilise the potential and capacities of current and next generations of young people is the sine qua non for Europe to exit the economic crisis and achieve future prosperity.

Finally, it asserts that EU-level investments are essential as a counter-balancing force when the economy is weak, and to act as catalysts for economic restructuring and growth.

“More than ever, for the very reason that economic recovery is not yet achieved, now is not the time to reduce investment in education, research and development,” said the EUA.