Universities, university medical centres and KNAW advocate expanding European support for science
Horizon Europe is one of the world’s largest international funding programme for science and innovation. With a total budget of €95.5 billion over seven years, Horizon Europe is indispensable to European science. The programme is key for taking on big social challenges such as climate change, inequality of opportunity and health disparities. For example, it has made a solid contribution to greater cooperation in European research and to an increase in pioneering basic research. Nonetheless, the Dutch universities, the university medical centres and the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) have found that the Horizon programme could still be better equipped to make a real difference with regard to the great challenges we face. Pieter Duisenberg, chair of Universities of the Netherlands: ‘Science and innovation must remain at the top of the list of priorities of the EU and its member states. This includes an investment in Horizon Europe.’
The current Horizon programme will run until the end of 2027. The European Commission is taking this opportunity to take a long and hard look at its research programme. In a large public consultation, the Commission is canvassing for experiences with Horizon 2020 (the programme that ended in 2020) and the current Horizon Europe programme, as well as looking ahead at policy priorities for the coming years. Universities, university medical centres and the KNAW benefit greatly from a smoothly running programme. They offer the EU five recommendations:
- Make research and innovation a strategic priority in the EU. In all policy areas, sound scientific knowledge and the stimulation of innovative solutions are a basic need. Other major powers are already investing heavily in their knowledge base. In terms of investment in research and innovation, Europe cannot afford to fall behind the United States and China. For the EU as well as for its member states, science and innovation should become priorities. The EU should at the very least double the Horizon budget, and it is essential that member states meet the Lisbon target. This involves investing 3% of GDP in research and innovation.
- Excellence and impact should be leading when Horizon projects are awarded, both for fundamental research and for impactful innovation. Horizon should focus on the best and most impactful research. Investment should span the entire chain, from basic research to applied innovation. Within pillar 2, we find a decrease in opportunities for basic research, especially in the Health cluster. We advocate a suitable balance and opportunities for all types of research and a diverse range of topics. This research is essential for expanding the European knowledge base.
- Unlock Europe’s rich and diverse potential. In the past years, the social sciences and the humanities have been integrated increasingly into Horizon, but they are not yet involved in all topics. It is precisely this knowledge that is crucial in getting social change done and the spread of innovative knowledge.
- Invest in those research programmes that are running smoothly such as the European Research Council (ERC). These programmes have demonstrated their value to fundamental science. New programmes such as the EU Missions are not nearly as successful. We recommend that the Commission invest in ongoing successful programmes rather than setting up new programmes.
- Applying for and implementing Horizon Europe projects should be simplified. It should be made easier to go through all of the required steps. Especially the European partnerships are still unclear about many things. The Commission should aim to have clear, uniform procedures so as to avoid the loss of promising research applications.
The European Commission’s public consultation ends on 23 February. In the coming months, universities, university medical centres and research institutes will have new talks with the Commission about opportunities for improving Horizon Europe as well as about a future framework programme. Read the position paper of UNL, NFU and KNAW here. Based on their experience with Horizon Europe, Dutch universities have additionally formulated a number of suggestions to further improve transparency, user-friendliness and accessibility of the Framework programme.