The UK was due to participate in the bloc’s £80bn program under the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA). But the EU has told Britain that it cannot participate until it resolves the dispute over the Northern Ireland protocol. Now, UK researchers promised Horizon Europe grants face the loss of promised funding, and collaboration with European partners could be scrapped if a new deal is not struck with the European Union.
But all hope is not lost because, according to Vivienne Stern, director of Universities UK, it looks like Britain will opt for a “bigger and better” plan B.
It comes after Universities UK, which represents 140 universities across the country, warned this week that the UK’s partnership with Horizon Europe was “on the brink of a precipice”.
Swansea University Vice-Chancellor Paul Boyle wrote a letter on behalf of Universities UK to European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic, urging him to settle the dispute so Britain can join the programme.
Ms Stern said it was “not a hoax” and added that she would be “really surprised” if Britain still pushed for the partnership six months later.
Ms Stern said: “We are increasingly of the opinion that Plan B is the most likely destination.
“I see no reason to be optimistic that he will be released in the time we have left. »
He added that there is now “fairly detailed planning” for the Horizon Europe alternative, which has reportedly intensified in recent weeks, with plans expected to be made public in the coming weeks.
One possible option builds on a plan drawn up in 2019 amid fears that participation in Horizon Europe could be scrapped in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
It was written by Adrian Smith, President of the Royal Society and civil servant Graeme Reid.
And, according to the report, the plan would not exactly replicate the Horizon Europe mechanism.
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The report states: “We are not convinced that it is possible to make a convincing case for substantial levels of public spending on activities that replicate, line by line, the EU’s research and innovation agreements with the UK.
But with some institutions and researchers expecting European grants and relying increasingly on Horizon funding, this could pose some problems.
Ms. Stern said: “I think you’ll see things that are trying to get money into the system as quickly and efficiently as possible. »
He also suggested that instead of so-called European Research Council (ERC) grants, Horizon’s main funding mechanism, Plan B can be expected to offer “bigger, better, faster and longer”.
Science Minister George Freeman also says he has his own “bold plan B”.
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Freeman hinted that the plan will include partnerships with science and innovation powerhouses such as our Five Eyes partners (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, United States), as well as countries such as Japan.
In an appearance before the Committee on Science and Technology earlier this year, Freeman agreed that universities in the United States, Australia and Asia are of “better quality” than those in Europe.
And the science minister already appears to be making progress in building partnerships with non-EU countries.
He met with his counterparts from around the world, including Switzerland (which was also expelled from Horizon Europe due to a political dispute), Israel and Sweden.
And the UK scientific community stresses that the UK must follow plan B because the delay has been too long.
Ludovic Thilly, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Coimbra Group, said: “We cannot continue to accept that scientific cooperation is held hostage by bilateral politics. »
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