When Jean-Claude Juncker announced his plans to boost economic growth and employment in Europe this fall he met with scepticism in academia. The League of European Research Universities (LERU) warned for a waning research budget as Horizon 2020 would be “squeezed”.
A prerequisite for innovation
The night before Donald Tusk will put Juncker’s Investment Plan on the agenda of the European Council, the concerns of LERU are shared by the EUA. “Funding for Horizon 2020 must be protected,” the universities write in a statement expressed by a large number of ‘national rectors’. “Research is a prerequisite for innovation, without basic research the pipeline to innovation is cut off.”
“Research must be publicly funded in an appropriate way and any cuts to the Horizon 2020 budget will result in a performance loss for the whole European research and innovation system,” the rectors argue.
The EUA fears Horizon 2020 to become under pressure and this would result in a decreasing budget for the ‘Excellent Science Pillar’ in the programme. “As it plays a crucial role in supporting basic research, the basis for developing competitive knowledge-based products and services. European-level funding for basic research should therefore not be ‘diverted’, as cuts in this Pillar could compromise the capacity of Europe to innovate in the years to come.”
Split in national policies
EUA’s latest Public Funding Observatory report shows that in a number of member states, public investment for universities (for HE and research) has been reduced, which is of great concern. At the same time, EUA has pointed out that there is an expectation from some governments that universities should increasingly turn to funding from EU programmes, such as Horizon 2020 and the Structural Funds, to make up for these shortfalls.
For EUA, any attempt to incentivise within the ‘Juncker Plan’ the investment from member states in projects involving universities could potentially be positive. Universities are key actors in relation to education, research and innovation in Europe, and therefore contribute to enhancing Europe’s competitiveness, growth and employment. They should be at the heart of any initiative to boost investment in human resources and research-based knowledge development.
EUA understands that potential projects have been scanned by the ‘EU Task force on Investment’ and are linked to proposals put forward by member states. It considers that any future initiative should give special attention to developing clear and transparent guidelines concerning the nature of project proposals and the selection of projects under the new Investment Plan. Moreover, while EUA understands the need to move forward rapidly it would be important that the university sector has the opportunity to participate in relevant projects through a structured and transparent process.