Double EU budget, say European university associations

Thirteen university associations, including the European University Association, the League of European Research Universities, the Coimbra Group and the Guild network, have published an open letter to the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Council, calling for a doubling of the European Union budget for research, innovation and education – to €160 billion (US$198 billion) for the period 2021-28.

“As the European Commission has stated, this doubling would enable the EU to emerge as a global leader in areas like future-energy batteries, smart and clean buildings and vehicles, infectious diseases, and the circular economy. At the same time it would stimulate more inclusive and resilient societies, increase sustainable growth and reduce inequality in Europe,” they said in their letter on 21 March.

Their demand echoes the call made last year by the High Level Group on Maximising the Impact of EU Research and Innovation Programmes to double the budget for Horizon 2020, the biggest EU research programme.

Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, in a speech to the European Parliament on 14 March, lent his support to the target of doubling funding but appeared less than confident that it could be realised.

He said: “If we went – I dream – up to €160 billion, this would result in the creation of 650,000 jobs by 2040 and an increase in GDP of 0.5%. If we did – in fact, I think we should – the European Union will become one of the world's leading players in the areas of research and innovation.”

The previous target floated by the European Parliament and others for the Ninth Framework Programme (FP9) was €120 billion.

In their letter, the 13 associations argue that Horizon 2020 is underfunded, with the budget supporting less than one out of five high-quality proposals. In addition, despite the “outstanding” work of Erasmus+ in fostering mobility and employability, European student mobility, at 5%, is far below the 20% Bologna target.

However, they also warned that doubling the Framework Programme budget could not be a substitute for strong support for, and investment in, research, innovation and education at national level.

“Sufficient national investment in research, to the level of 3% of GDP as agreed by the member states, and education, together with EU funding, is crucial for Europe’s competitiveness and for a sustainable European society in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals,” they said.

“We also urge the European institutions to encourage member states more forcefully to meet their commitments in the framework of the European Research Area and the European Higher Education Area.”

They said universities are strong and committed partners in the search for solutions to pressing, emerging and future societal challenges, and for boosting EU competitiveness, regional development and sustainability.

They do this by performing cutting-edge research that is increasingly challenge-driven, interdisciplinary, multi-actor – working with industry, small and medium enterprises and societal or cultural enterprises – and inspired by open science principles.

“Universities bring research results to the public and the market, valorise these results through start-ups and educate present and future generations of teachers, entrepreneurs, researchers, politicians and citizens in general.”

True innovations and impact

Jukka Kola, president of the University of Helsinki, Finland, said: “For Europe, in order to stay strong and successful in the international competition, it is necessary to invest more in science, research and higher education. This way we can create true innovations and impact, not just imitating or lagging behind Asia or America.”

He said to achieve sustainable growth it is crucial that additional resources are made available at EU and national level in all countries, including Central and Eastern Europe.

“We want and need to have a common and strong opinion that the goal to double the investment in research, innovation and higher education is beneficial and necessary to all of us, to the entire Europe in the long run.”

But Dan Andrée, head of the Brussels office of Vinnova, Sweden’s innovation agency, told University World News that, while hoping for the doubling of funding, he was not optimistic.

“As I understand it, it will in the first case be difficult to have the same budget for MFF [the Multiannual Financial Framework] after 2021 as the existing one with the UK leaving. Many net-payers say that we 'have to do more with less'. So in the best case we will nearly have the same budget for the period 2021-2027 as for 2014-2020.”

He said if the FP9 budget is doubled it means that the whole increase will have to be taken from other policy areas such as agriculture and structural funds and in the end it will come down to whether net-receiving member states decide it would be acceptable to receive less structural or agricultural funds.