Universities warn against cuts to EU research funding

The European University Association, or EUA, has warned the Council of the European Union against making “considerable cuts” to proposed funding for research and innovation, including to the major framework programme Horizon 2020.

In a press statement last Thursday, the EUA said it understood that the Council of Minister’s position – to be formally adopted in September – recommended reductions in research and innovation payments.

“EUA believes that the proposed cuts to research are not in line with the EU’s objective to create a competitive European knowledge society,” said the university association.

“Both research and education have consistently been highlighted by EU policy-makers as being crucial for Europe’s future – and were prioritised as key areas for increased investment in the EU’s long-term budget (multi-annual financial framework) for 2014-20.”

The week before, the president of the German Rectors' Conference, Professor Horst Hippler, slammed the EU for neglecting research in its funding priorities. The rectors' body said European heads of state were seeking to cut research and innovation funding by 11%.

There would be €1.1 billion (US$1.4 billion) less available for 2015 compared to what the European Commission had proposed. Universities might have to wait for funding for months, said Hippler, and entire funding lines could be blocked.

Research’s rocky ride

Last November the European Parliament voted for the huge Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme for 2014-20. The EU allocated €79 billion (US$104 billion) to spend on research and innovation projects, on the continent and around the world.

Universities enthusiastically welcomed the move after a rocky budgetary ride for research. But there were concerns that negotiations over the multi-annual framework spending programme could throw a spanner in the works.

In July, said the EUA, the Council of the EU’s Permanent Representatives Committee agreed its position on the union’s draft budget for 2015, which will be negotiated in the coming months with the European Commission and European Parliament.

In the same month, the European Parliament in a press release expressed “dismay at the Council’s habit in recent years of cutting payment budgets, even though payments are needed to meet its own previous commitments”.

According to the EUA: “It also outlines the problems posed by rolling over ‘unpaid bills’ from one year to the next which also mean some beneficiaries of EU funding are likely to have to wait for money they have worked for.

“For universities, for example, this could potentially create a variety of different problems in terms of their research activities (for example – in some cases beneficiaries could have to pre-finance activities, sometimes at market rates),” said the university association last Thursday.

“EUA is concerned about this trend, particularly as its work has highlighted that EU funding has become an increasingly important income source for many European universities, especially in the context of reduced national spending on higher education and research in many European countries.”

EUA Secretary General Lesley Wilson said that at a time of sharply increased competition in Horizon 2020 funding calls, it was crucial that cuts not be made to research and innovation budgets.

“The frequently stated political rhetoric which places emphasis on the central role of research and education in Europe’s future competitiveness must be backed up by commitment and action from the EU institutions.”