Minister outlines plans for UK Horizon alternative

British research grants will be “longer and better funded” than those offered by the European Research Council, said George Freeman

The UK science minister has outlined government contingency measures if participation in Horizon Europe is shortlived.

Alternative British research grants would be “longer and better funded” than those offered by the European Research Council’s programme, suggested science minister George Freeman.

Freeman billed his visit to the EU capital earlier this month as the “last round of talks” on possible British association to the £80.5bn seven-year research programme. A decision from the European Council on continued UK participation has been delayed: many perceive a diplomatic spat between the UK and the EU over the Northern Ireland protocol as the cause.

The science minister said that the UK contingency measures would have three broad goals: to offer “world-class” research fellowships, improve industry and innovation, and build global research collaborations. In its first stages, he said, it would seek to support any ongoing project that loses ERC funding.

The UK would, he said, offer researchers “longer and better funded” grants than the EU. Grants would be “deep fellowships, wide fellowships across humanities and across convergent and interdisciplinary science.” Better visas, he continued, would “make it easier for people and put a whole bunch of flexibilities in”.

The UK would hope to improve the partnerships between innovation and industry to tackle “the great industry challenges” with a “whole series of programmes that are liberated from the traditional bureaucracy”.

Finally, Freeman said the UK would build global research partnerships around major challenges, such as climate change and antimicrobial resistance, with a “major commitment to third-country participation” in Horizon Europe.

He urged the European Commission not to “use science to play hardball”, arguing that a decision against the UK would prove “self-defeating”. “If you have to punish the UK, do it some other way,” he said.

Read more: Universities fear UK at ‘precipice’ of Horizon Europe exit

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