воскресенье, 9 августа 2015 г.

Do we really want to experience a UK without EU research funding?

ResearchWith the in-out EU referendum creeping closer, do we need to start imagining a nation state without EU funding? Really, it doesn’t bear thinking about and here’s why.
The European Union (EU) has provided funding for collaborative research and development in the form of Framework Programmes. During early European integration in the 1950s, EU funding was limited to the industrial sectors in which the European Community concentrated its efforts: coal, steel and atomic energy, and individual research programmes were later established in fields such as energy, environment and molecular biology. It was then Etienne Davignon, European Commissioner for Industrial Affairs and Energy in 1981, who proposed the consolidation of the research programmes into a single framework.  In 1984, the Framework Programme was born: FP1 running from 1984-1987 with a budget of €3.3bn. FP2 ran from 1987-1991 with €5.4bn, FP3 from 1991-1994 with €6.6bn, FP4 from 1994-1998 with €13.2bn, FP5 from 1998-2002 with €14.9bn, FP6 from 2002-2006 with €19.3bn, and FP7 from 2007-2013 with €55.9bn. The current Framework Programme is the Horizon 2020 Programme, running from 2014-2020 with a total budget of €80 billion (European Commission).
Since its membership to the EU, the UK has accessed funding through these Framework Programmes, from which it has benefitted greatly. Under the last Framework Programme, FP7, the UK received almost €7 billion, which constitute 15.5% of the funding allocated and in 2013 the UK received a higher value of grants than any other participating country. In particular, the higher education sector secures over 70% of the funding allocated to the UK (Corbett, R.), therefore representing a crucial source of income for HEIs. In fact, the UK government’s “Review of the Balance of Competences between the United Kingdom and the European Union: Research and Development”, identifies EU research activity as one of the areas that is most closely aligned with the UK’s interests. Ultimately, the more the EU invests in research and development, the more the UK benefits.
In addition to the Horizon 2020 Programme, the EU also allocates funding to its member states through the Erasmus+ Programme, for students to study and train abroad, and through its European Research Council grants, providing funding  to individual researchers.
So here’s the question: what would the UK look like from the point of view of research funding if it were no longer a member of the EU? Being a member of the EU makes the UK eligible to bid for EU research funding, so the simple answer is that the UK would no longer be eligible for the funding under the same terms, leaving the higher education sector in particular high and dry. It would be incorrect to say the UK would no longer have access to EU funding, but the UK would lose its voice in the development of EU research and higher education strategies and its ability to influence the regulatory environment, both of which have provided favourable circumstances for securing research funding. Furthermore, we should consider at this point the response received by Switzerland from the EU when its referendum was held on the free movement of workers between the EU and Switzerland. The EU came down hard on Switzerland’s access to EU funding as an associate state, which, some say also acted as a warning sign to the UK in the case that it should turn its back on the EU in a forthcoming referendum.
Without this access to funding and therefore, potentially €7 billion less better off than usual, what begs the question is whether the UK would be capable of making the impact in research and development that it is used to. Even if the UK government suggests it would invest enough of the national budget in research to compensate that lost from EU funding, namely from the funds saved from EU membership, can we really trust that this would be the case? We had better hope so, because a severe loss of research funding would tragically destabilise the UK’s influence and position in global research and development, not to mention the fact that a limit to the funding of HEIs would create serious restrictions on their overall functioning.

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