Regaining lost ground in the Scottish research landscape

March 6 2024, by Frank Moeschler MBE

Scottish research – both industrial and academic – have benefited hugely over the years from participation in EU programmes, most notably Horizon.  Almost every single EU programme has either some direct research funding or mechanisms which helped support our research landscape.

A pertinent example is the £900m Scotland received in structural funds in the current EU budget or Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) – of which around £160m was spent on pure R&D activities from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) alone.  The loss of this funding (which is no longer available from 2024) will disproportionately affect our poorest regions’ research capacity. 

We must therefore focus on the opportunities that remain if we wish to retain close links with our European research partners.

Longer-term horizons

The UK’s association to Horizon Europe and Copernicus – which have finally come into force this January (2024) – are key to achieving this. 

Horizon is a programme which opens up collaboration with groups of European partners on all subjects – from agriculture to space – which cannot be done through any other mechanism.  It provides a stable and long-term funding stream, which ensures that friendships and links are valued.  It opens the doors for our companies to become part of EU supply chains and can lead to opportunities to collaborate in other projects or new investment opportunities.

Indeed, according to European Commission analysts, Horizon 2020 grants have fuelled a 20% increase in employment and a 30% rise in total assets and revenues for recipient companies.

All in this together

Given that our participation levels in Horizon Europe are lower in pillar 2 (Global Challenges and European Industrial Competitiveness) and pillar 3 (Innovative Europe) than in 2019, there is scope to regain some of this lost ground.  To do so, we need a sustained effort to reignite relationships – attending conferences and engaging bilaterally – as well as ensuring that we have resourced these efforts sufficiently (both in terms of staff and funding). 

Furthermore, we now have three years before FP10, the next EU framework programme for research & innovation, is launched.

In order to ensure that FP10 is seen as a win-win for all, we need to have a coordinated position.  This will require input from all Scottish stakeholders – including academia, industry, NGOs and government (funders and policy makers).  Without this, our engagement in Brussels – though our various European-wide networks – will be suboptimal.  

Issues such as the alignment between our respective research priorities, retaining a focus on excellent research or the ability to participate in calls (i.e. minimising exclusions) – are all factors that will impact on both UK and EU decision makers’ stance as regards UK fully associating to the next programme.

I recognise that this will not be easy, but to slightly misquote Mark Twain: “Three years from now you’ll be more disappointed by the things you did not do than the ones you did.” 

Indeed, we need to make sure that we do not miss the opportunity – continued association to FP10 is a realistic ambition and is one we should not only aspire to but should work towards achieving.

Dr Frank Moeschler MBE is an EU research expert who spoke on the topic at the tenth workshop in the Scotland-Europe Initiative series.

The RSE’s blog series offers personal views on a variety of issues. These views are not those of the RSE and are intended to offer different perspectives on a range of current issues.

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