Amanda Crowfoot, Director of Science Europe, highlights to AG, how Horizon 2020 is crucial for research organisations across Europe…
Horizon 2020, like the 7 previous R&D Framework Programmes, is a vital source of income for research organisations across Europe. Put simply, this funds thousands of research collaborations and adds significantly to knowledge and discovery, and to Europe’s capacity to innovate. However, it is not just of value as a source of funding per se, but also because it provides funding that is often additional – in that it does something different – to what is funded at national level.
At its best, European-funded research complements what is done in individual countries. For example, most countries fund bottom-up frontier research, but the European Research Council (ERC) creates a European level competition that essentially benchmarks some of the most excellent research and researchers, raising the quality and profile of European research and supporting the establishment of international teams. Similarly, the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) facilitate research training and career development in an international context, fostering global links. Horizon 2020 funds research infrastructure projects that would be beyond the scope of individual countries, and helps to ensure that access to facilities is truly open. The programme is also, crucially, funding numerous collaborative projects that bring together researchers, industry and civil society to address, through research and innovation, some of the greatest societal challenges of our time.
The common thread in all of this is collaboration: working together on things that cannot always be tackled alone, and which are often of a scale that no single country could achieve individually.
The members of Science Europe – 47 national research organisations from 27 European countries – are closely involved and invested in Horizon 2020. The membership includes some major research performing organisations, who are amongst the most active and successful organisations in the Framework Programme. Science Europe also represents European research funding agencies, for whom the programme supports co-operation and co-ordination with other funders and policy makers, such as through ERA-NETs and Joint Programming Initiatives. Horizon 2020 fosters collaboration and supports scientific breakthrough, for the members of Science Europe directly and for the research communities that they support.
Science Europe has a working group on Horizon 2020, which brings together experts from its member organisations to share information and to develop common views, including on the future of European research funding.
The period from late 2016 to late 2017 will see the interim evaluation of Horizon 2020. This is a crucial opportunity to provide input that will influence the last years of this programme, but, even more crucially, will help to shape the early thinking ability about the next Framework Programme, FP9.
In the views of Science Europe members, Horizon 2020 has seen some real improvements in terms of simplification of the programme since FP7, such as the creation of a robust participants’ portal, and the move to a ‘paperless’ system, but there are still improvements that need to be made to ensure that there is real clarity of communication and that researchers can access the programme in an optimal way. However, a reflection on Horizon 2020 should not just be about operational aspects – absolutely critical though these are for all concerned – but also about what sort of research and innovation programme is really needed for Europe.
Has the experiment of a single programme for research and innovation worked? Should FP9 build incrementally on Horizon 2020 and seek to improve the existing model, or is something different needed to really capitalise on European investment in research? If there is continuity, is the balance between pillars and instruments the right one? Where would the proposed European Innovation Council sit within this? What impact does the Open Science agenda have on the Framework Programme? These are some of the key questions on which the European research community needs to reflect. Science Europe is most definitely doing so.
Last but by no means least, for Horizon 2020, and any future Framework Programme, to have the maximum impact it needs to have an appropriate budget. Science Europe has been active in making the case for protecting the EU research budget, and for stressing the crucial role of basic research in underpinning the research careers, innovation and economic growth of the future.
This is one area where it is important for research organisations to come together and to speak with one voice. Last year, Science Europe worked with partner organisations in warning against the diversion of Horizon 2020 funding to the new European Fund for Strategic Investments. We will continue to advocate for the right conditions for research, and to seek to ensure that policy- and decision-makers are fully aware of the extent to which research is essential for Europe’s future and that funding for this must be strengthened for the benefit of our collective future. The Framework Programme is critical in this, and must be protected.