Universities demand hike in EU research funding

In the wake of the European Commission’s release of its outline for the Ninth Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, Horizon Europe, 14 European associations of universities released a joint statement on Friday calling upon the European Union institutions to double the budget for Horizon Europe, improve its content and reconsider the budget distribution over the different pillars of the programme.

The statement calls on the European Parliament and European Council to support Horizon Europe but make the following changes:
  • • Increase the total budget to €160 billion (US$186 billion).

  • • Review the budget allocation.

  • • Put the realisation of the European Research Area at the centre of Horizon Europe.

  • • Foresee better linkages between research, innovation and education.

  • • Include a human and societal reflection, as well as options for fundamental research, in all clusters and missions.
The statement says, for universities, creating the best Horizon Europe possible is paramount as the programme is a key enabler in achieving European ambitions and strengthening values. “By reinforcing research and innovation, Horizon Europe will impact the daily life of European citizens, European society as a whole and the European economy.”

Professor Kurt Deketelaere, secretary general of the League of European Research Universities, which initiated the joint statement, said: “If it had not been for the budget distribution proposal, our overall evaluation of Horizon Europe would have been even more positive! The budget proposal is decent, but must be increased, the programme proposal is decent, but must be improved.

“However, the underfunding of pillar one [Open Science] and the overfunding of pillar three [Open Innovation] have been a damper on our initial joy over the programme. So this will have to be remedied.”

Lesley Wilson, secretary general of the European University Association, said: “Our most important recommendation is to increase Horizon Europe’s total budget. To meet the EU’s ambitious goals for the programme, universities are calling for funding to be doubled to €160 billion.”

The statement says a bigger total budget would help address universities’ concerns about how the budget is allocated.

“Funding must be distributed with a focus on those programmes that have a proven track record in: generating EU added value; contributing to the European research and innovation landscape; and reinforcing European human capital,” the statement says.

“This is exactly what the Marie Sklodowska Curie Actions and the European Research Council in particular have delivered. For that reason, and to multiply the effects of their achievements, they deserve a more substantial budget increase.”

Uneven funding for challenges

The 14 associations say while the overall budget for pillar two [Global Challenges and Industrial Competitiveness] has increased substantially, the distribution of budgets is not equitably divided among the envisaged five thematic clusters within that pillar, which focus on Health; Inclusive and Secure Society; Digital and Industry; Climate, Energy and Mobility; and Food and Natural Resources.

“We welcome the five-cluster approach, but a more balanced budget distribution must capture the fact that they all are the most pressing challenges our societies are facing.”

They note positively the budget increase for “sharing excellence” as an important element in building the European Research Area.

But they also say that sufficient investment and supportive frameworks at the national level are also needed to close the research and innovation divide across and within member states.

The European University Association, in its detailed response to the Horizon Europe proposal, says this includes lowering risks to participation, enhanced consistency in the interpretation of rules, and broader acceptance of the accounting practices of beneficiaries. It adds that the possibility for member states to finance the Seal of Excellence via European Structural and Investment Funds will also contribute to this objective.

Universities’ central role

The 14 associations, in their statement, say universities have a clear and central role to play in addressing today’s global challenges and in helping to stimulate industrial competitiveness. “No other type of organisation can address such issues in a holistic way, while also considering the societal dimension. Universities should therefore play a central role in developing and managing missions,” they say.

The statement also says that universities have a leading role in stimulating the transfer of research results to society and the market, mainly through highly educated human capital.

“Therefore, the role of universities in the European Innovation Council must be amplified and recognised. Linkages between research, innovation and education in Horizon Europe must be improved and spread more broadly over the entire programme.”

Finally, they call for “stronger human and societal approaches across the whole programme”, especially in some pillar two clusters.

“Industry’s short-term interest should not prevail over society’s long-term benefits from Horizon Europe,” the statement says. “Even when the focus is on technology and close-to-market activities, reflections on how it affects our societies must be included.

“At the same time, addressing today’s global challenges and generating breakthrough innovations need fresh insights based on new research, not only projects that further develop already-known approaches. Close-to-market activities should be complemented explicitly with fundamental research.”

The associations say they look forward to continuing their work with the European Commission, the European Parliament and Council of the European Union to support a timely approval of Horizon Europe and to actively engage in the co-creation process in order to make the programme a success.

The 14 associations that signed the statement are:
  • • AURORA, a European network of universities
  • • CESAER, A European network of science and technology universities
  • • CLUSTER, the Consortium Linking Universities of Science and Technology for Education and Research
  • • The Coïmbra Group
  • • EARMA, the European Association of Research Managers and Administrators
  • • EASSH, the European Alliance for Social Sciences and Humanities
  • • ECIU, the European Consortium of Innovative Universities
  • • EUA, the European University Association
  • • The Guild of European Research-Intensive Universities
  • • IDEA League, a European network of science and technology universities
  • • LERU, the League of European Research Universities
  • • SEFI, the European Society for Engineering Education
  • • UNICA, the Network of Universities from the Capitals of Europe
  • • YERUN, Young European Research Universities.