The report recommends principles for potential alternative UK funding streams such as robust governance, independence, transparency and an ability to maintain or enhance the diversity of funding sources for research and development. Many of these principles are, of course, more widely applicable. In the case of discovery research, we pointed out that decision making structures that are independent of political agendas and timescales are vital, so we are pleased to see these principles reflected in the report’s recommendations.
The report also recommends that efforts are made to ‘protect and stabilise’ UK capability that has built up over the years if the UK does not associate to Horizon Europe, whilst acknowledging in its introduction that the UK government would like the option to associate to Horizon Europe. It goes on to say that if the UK does not associate to Horizon Europe, then there would be a powerful case for replacing the funding that the UK currently receives from the EU for research and innovation with domestic funding.
For the RSC, it is clear that the UK must prioritise securing association to Horizon Europe ahead of alternatives – this is something we made clear in our response to the Smith review and that we have made clear in all our interactions with government on EU exit, because we know it’s our community’s priority. Across all of our work in this area, we have been able to draw upon the evidence, views and experiences of our chemistry community, cutting across academia, industry and other sectors. We’ve worked with you to develop case studies that show the wider benefits of participation in EU research and innovation programmes, such as bringing together complementary expertise to tackle global challenges or supporting business to link to mentors overseas so that they grow. Through surveys, we know that participation in EU programmes is a priority for our chemistry community. In our July 2019 policy priorities survey, 55% of respondents gave full UK association to EU Research and Innovation Framework programmes after Brexit a top priority rating.
In our submission to the Smith Review, we pointed out that there is not a binary choice between collaborating with the EU and collaborating with the rest of the world. If the UK really wants to be ambitious with international collaborations in the future, it needs to think about the whole world and put policies in place that welcome people from around the world the UK, whether it is for a short research visit or to make their homes here as they progress their careers. The final report from the review contains a number of recommendations that reflect the evidence and input that we provided – we are pleased to see the importance of immigration, discovery research and sound principles for new funding mentioned in the report. We also know that the issue of whether or not to associate to Horizon Europe fell outside the scope of the review. However, in considering the final report from the review and the UK’s future funding frameworks for international collaboration, our message to the future UK government is clear; association to Horizon Europe must still be your first choice.
The report rightly identifies a number of exciting opportunities for the way that the UK funds and supports internationally collaborative research. It will be for the new government to respond to the recommendations of the report and determine subsequent plans. The RSC knows that supporting UK researchers to connect and collaborate with others globally is vital for our community. We stand ready to work with the future government on the next stages of developing the UK’s future frameworks for international collaboration on research.