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Reflections on Europe Day and a view to the future – Towards Horizon Europe

We hear from Alan Kennedy in our latest blog, as he takes us on a deep dive into the world of Horizon Europe.

If it was not already obvious, and as you will have seen from Professor Charlie Jeffery’s email last Wednesday that we are, undoubtedly, a European University. The benefits we receive are manifold, from receiving students and staff at all levels, funding for research and buildings. But we also give back, providing a well-educated workforce for Europe and the world, collaborating on ground-breaking research which benefits locally and globally.

Not just on Europe day, but every day we’ve been flying the flag for Europe here in EU funding HQ, there three quarters of the core team are citizens of another EU country, and so we are keenly aware of the impact of the EU both personally and professionally.

Edinburgh is a major recipient of EU research funding. We’re now the 9th highest among Europe’s higher education institutes and 5th in the UK. We are currently part of over 240 projects funded though Horizon 2020 and host the 7th highest number of European Research Council grants.

We are now into the final years of Horizon 2020 and preparing for the next Framework programme. But what will it look like? Through my involvement with University networks, like the League of European Research universities (the COIMBRA Group), I’ve been part of the story for the creation of what we then called FP9. Through working with researchers, administrators and professional services staff we’ve fed in to consultations and participated in working groups to hopefully help the European Commission create a framework programme fit for purpose. You were introduced to Horizon Europe last week and so I’ll now explore what it will look like.

Meet the new boss, same as the last – a glimpse behind the scenes of a framework programme

“Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made.”, as the often misattributed quote goes (It was from John Godfrey Saxe, an American poet, not Otto von Bismarch, in case you were wondering!). So too for European Research Framework programmes? Well, no. In much the same way that the finest sausages are filled with the finest ingredients, so too is one of the world’s most ambitious research programmes.

Much work is left to do on the next framework programme. On the second of May this year we saw the proposal for the next Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) the financial basis for the 7 years after 2020. We saw significant increases in investment in youth and education, with a doubling of the Erasmus+ budget, and €100m allocated to Horizon Europe.

The proposal for the MMF and Horizon Europe (due to be published on June 6th) will be read by the European Council and Parliament. The adoption of both will be disrupted by the European Parliamentary elections in May 2019, and the UK’splans to leave the EU before this. We will then likely see changes proposed to both by the new Parliament, before the adoption of the MMF and Horizon Europe in the last quarter of 2019. We’ll begin to see drafts of the new call in 2019 and finally the implementation will begin on January 1st 2021.

Show me the money

Is €100bn enough? No, not by a longshot. Every year thousands of applications proposing excellent and credible science aren’t funded. Not because they weren’t good, simply because there wasn’t enough money to fund them. The oft repeated statistic is that three times more of the current budget would be needed to fund all the excellent proposals submitted. The EU is a hotbed of excellent research.

But €100bn is what we have on the table and €100bn is probably what we will get. The European Parliament are supportive of more, but the European Council not so much. While there were calls to double the budget the talk in Brussels was that we’d be likely to get no more than an increase in line with inflation, so €100bn looks better than that. It should also be noted that that doesn’t include contributions from Associated Countries, which could amount to an additional €20bn over the lifetime of the programme.

Looking under the hood

The phrase most often spoken by the European Commission when discussing Horizon Europe, formally known as FP9, was “evolution, not revolution”. Participants found the massive changes between FP7 and Horizon 2020 difficult to deal with and larger institutions who were more familiar with the Framework Programme struggled to adapt. So in preparation for the next framework programme the commission used the Mid-Term review to seek opinions of how fit for purpose the current programme was and what lessons might be learned for the next one. As it happened most of the stakeholders were reasonably happy with things and so they didn’t propose any massive changes and the familiar “three pillar” structure will remain.  But what changes will be see?

Pillar 1 – Open Science

The majority of the university’s participation on Horizon 2020 happens in the the Excellent Science Pillar. Now to be known as the “Open Science” pillar under Horizon Europe we’ll see both of these schemes remain. Both the ERC and MSCA are viewed as hugely successful and will likely not see any significant changes in structure and requirements. Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) have moved.

Pillar 2 – Global Challenges

One of the more visible changes, and which will impact those in the university sector most, is happening here. Societal Challenges, formally “pillar 3” is becoming the second pillar called Global Challenges. The 7 societal challenges we knew and loved, along with Leadership in Enabling and Industrial Technologies (LEIT), are changing into 5 thematic clusters. Topics within these clusters will be strongly influenced by the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. This is a theme we’ve seen emerge in the later stages of Horizon 2020.

The five thematic clusters are:

  1. Health – Formally Societal Challenge 1
  2. Natural Resources – Societal Challenge 2 and parts of Societal Challenge 5
  3. Energy and Climate – Societal Challenges 3 and 4, with part of Societal Challenge 5
  4. Resilient Society – Societal Challenge 6 and Science with and for Society (SwafS)
  5. Digitised Industry – Societal Challenge 7 and LEIT

We choose to go to the Moon

The casual follower of EU research will have heard about these “moonshots”, now known as Missions and based around President John F. Kennedy’s 1962 speech on sending a man to the moon. On May 15th last year the EU’s RISE group (Research, Innovation and Science Policy Experts group, set up to provide strategic advice for the EU Commissioner for Research Science and Innovation) Published a document, “Europe’s future: Open Innovation, Open Science, Open to the World” and from that point on talk of “mission orientated research” became more and more common. In December 2017 an expert group on the Economic and Societal Impact of Research (ESIR) published a memorandum “Towards a Mission-Oriented Research and Innovation Policy in the European Union”  and then in February this year Prof Mariana Mazzucato of UCL, and also member of ESIR) published a report commissioned by the European Commission titled “Mission-Oriented Research & Innovation in the European Union – A problem-solving approach to fuel innovation-led growth”. We were left in no doubt that missions had landed.

So what do we know about Horizon Europe’s missions?

Not a lot. In her report Mazzucato suggests the adoption of a number of grand challenges, broad topics under which the missions sit. Taking one example proposed in the report:

“Grand Challenge – Citizen Health and Wellbeing

Mission – Decreasing the Burden of Dementia, halving the human burden of dementia by 2030.”

With this goal in mind various R&I projects, similar to the Societal Challenge calls we are familiar with in Horizon 2020, will be clustered. It is proposed that the coordination for each mission is headed by a “mission lead” and would involve a multitude of different cross-sectoral and cross-disciplinary actors.

She proposed that the criteria for the mission:

  1. Be bold, inspirational with wide societal relevance
  2. Have a clear direction: targeted, measurable and time-bound
  3. Be ambitious but realistic research & innovation actions
  4. Be cross-disciplinary, cross-sector and cross–actor innovation
  5. Promote multiple, bottom-up solutions

While Mazzucato’s recommendation have not yet been adopted as the final proposal for the Horizon Europe’s Missions it is likely that what we do see proposed will be similar. It’s also expected that about 1/6 of the programme budget will be directed to the Missions and we expect that the commission will launch consultations on the chosen mission themes.

Pillar 3 – Innovative Europe

This is probably where the most significant changes can be found, and most of them were a long time coming. A lot of what is contained in Pillar 3 won’t be of great interest to many in the HE sector, but with the lines dividing research and industry even blurring there are areas of interest all the same.

European Innovation Council

This is intended to be the “ERC of innovation”, when the idea was launched by the Commissioner back in 2013, we got a flavour of what it will be about with the EIC Pilot under Horizon 2020. We’ll also see Commission support for developing and maintaining “Innovation Ecosystems” along with a host of financial products for SMEs and Start-ups, replacing the Access to Risk Finance and SME instrument schemes.

What’s in it for us?

Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) which appeared under Excellence Science in Pillar 1 seems to have reappeared under a new name in Horizon Europe’s Pillar three. Now to be known as “EIC Pathfinder” which will fund early-stages science and technology research into radically new future technologies.

The future FET Flagships, such as the Human Brain Project and the Graphene Flagship, will be funded under “EIC Accelerator“, taking frontier science closer to market.

The UK and Horizon Europe

And now for the bad news. We don’t yet know what form the UK’s participation in Horizon Europe will be, but it is recognised by both sides in this debate that the UK is a prime source of excellent science and any programme such as Horizon Europe would be poorer without our participation. Suffice to say, regardless of what the outcome of the Brexit negotiations will be, the UK will participate in Horizon Europe in some form and can still participate in Horizon 2020. Don’t let a possible outcome prevent you from making a positive contribution now.

Alan Kennedy is the European Funding Advisor in the European Funding Team within the Research Support Office. 

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Alan Kennedy


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