The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has announced funding that should assure the £1 billion-plus cost of UK participation in Horizon Europe.
The UK government announced a £250 million boost to research funding through BEIS for 2021/22, on top of the £400-million uplift provided at the last spending review for UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and National Academies.
The remaining £300 million cost of Horizon Europe will come from funds already allocated to BEIS, University Business understands. Before the UK signed the Trade and Co-operation Agreement (TCA) with the EU in 2019, thereby securing continued Horizon participation, BEIS ministers had received funding to develop a version for the UK.
The government committed £14.6 billion for R&D at the 2021/22 spending review and will also provide funding for UK research projects already awarded under Horizon 2020, Euratom and Copernicus, together worth over £500 million.
This latest announcement takes total government investment in R&D to £14.9 billion in 2021/22, the highest level in four decades, it said. The government remains committed to reaching its target of spending the equivalent of 2.4% of GDP on R&D by 2027, the statement continued, and increasing the budget for research and development to £22 billion.
Concerns had grown that UKRI would pay the estimated £1 billion expense from its existing budgets, and leading experts have welcomed the funding news.
No confirmation has been given yet as to how the government will cover the estimated £2 billion final bill for Horizon. The UK contribution to Horizon Europe is tied loosely to the funds it extracts from the scheme. The Treasury will repay funds if the UK wins more than it contributes, but only if it wins more than 8% of its contribution two years in a row.
Julia Buckingham, president of Universities UK, said: “Given current pressures on public finances this is a significant affirmation of the government’s belief in research, recognising the pivotal role it plays in the UK’s current and future prosperity, and ensuring UK universities will remain at the forefront of efforts to address the most pressing global challenges.”
UKRI chief executive Ottoline Leyser said: “This additional funding for research and innovation is most welcome and reaffirms the government’s commitment to an R&D-led recovery.
“UKRI will be working hard with government and the whole research and innovation community to make the most of the significant public investment entrusted to us to build an inclusive and sustainable knowledge economy, now and for the future.”
Joe Marshall, chief executive of the National Centre for Universities and Business, said it was unclear following this announcement how much larger the government’s spend on R&D was.
“The announcement of a £250m uplift in research funding sounds positive on the surface however it masks a worrying reality. The new cost of more than £1bn each year for association to the EU’s Horizon research programme will now be taken from the research budget. This results in a real term cut in research funding. If the government is serious about being a science superpower, it needs to invest more, not less in research.”
Hetan Shah, chief executive of the British Academy, said: “The new funding of £250m, combined with [the] repurposing of £400m which had already been announced at the spending review but not yet allocated will go a long way to protecting core UK research funding.”