Research and Erasmus cuts ‘could have been worse’

After all the scare stories of recent months, the budget settlements for the European Union’s (EU) research and innovation policy Horizon 2020 and the Erasmus for All mobility programme for 2014-20 could well have been a great deal worse.

Huge cuts had been expected at the hands of the austerity-minded EU heads of state and government but the deal that emerged late last Friday, 8 February, was by no means all bad.

“It’s about 14% below our proposal, which means that around 700,000 people will miss out on an experience abroad under the Erasmus for All programme in 2014-20 compared with the commission's proposal,” said Dennis Abbott, the European Commission’s education spokesperson.

“However, in the current economic climate there are still many positives for education, research and innovation – the figures agreed envisage significant increases in all our programmes compared to the current 2007-13 period,” he said.

The agreed deal means that the budget for Erasmus for All could increase by about 40%, which would mean that the EU will underwrite the costs of up to four million Europeans for study, work, teaching and learning abroad in 2014-20 compared with 2.5 million in 2007-13.

Unofficial calculations suggest that investment in Erasmus for All could amount to €14.5 billion (US$19.5 billion) at 2011 prices, or 1.37% of the overall budget. Brussels had asked for €16.9 billion.

Europe’s big research universities appear relieved that the cuts in research and innovation are less than feared.

Kurt Deketelaere, secretary general of the League of European Research Universities (LERU), an association of 21 leading European research-intensive universities, said: “We will end up with €70.9 billion for Horizon 2020, and separate budgets for the big research infrastructures.

“Is that good or is that bad? Well, a lot of people would have signed for that over the past months because at certain moments we’ve had figures going around of 45/55/60 – so €70.9 is in fact not bad.”

It was clear that the EU heads of state and government had seen the importance of research and innovation, he said.

“Obviously, it’s not €80 or €100 billion, but it’s a relief that the budget for the big research infrastructures have not been included in that €70.9,” Deketelaere told University World News.

The scientific infrastructure projects outside Horizon 2020 are: €6.3 billion for Galileo, Europe’s navigation satellite system; €2.7 billion for the experimental nuclear fusion reactor ITER; and €3.8 billion for GMES, a system of Earth observation satellites.

The big question now was whether the European parliament would accept or refuse the settlement – it could not amend the budget, although there was a chance that the figures could be revised in two or three years’ time.

The European Universities Association noted that while the settlement was less than Brussels had hoped, there still had to be an agreement with the parliament, whose president recently said savings in research and innovation were “misguided”.

In the UK the Russell Group, representing 24 leading UK research universities, said that while the final funding for Horizon 2020 was less than hoped for “it will be key to Europe’s, and the UK’s, long-term prosperity".

The EU governments had “taken the right approach at home by putting science and research at the heart of their growth strategies”, said the group.