Horizon Europe: Why scientists were desperate for UK to rejoin EU research programme – Professor Sir John Ball

The Horizon Europe news comes not a moment too soon, writes Professor Sir John Ball PRSE

The news that the Prime Minister has finally reached an agreement to rejoin science research programme Horizon Europe is a relief to us all in academic institutions across Scotland and the rest of the UK. As president of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Scotland’s national academy, I wholeheartedly welcome the news that the UK is once again to become a fully-fledged member of the project.

The only issue is that it took far too long to get over the line. Delays and uncertainty like this do nothing to help institutions in their work. Only three weeks ago, I wrote to the Prime Minister adding a Scottish voice to the many others urging him to confirm UK membership. Given Horizon’s fine track record, and the overwhelming support from UK and European scientists for UK participation, I am delighted that an agreement has finally been reached, if only very late in the day.

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Over its previous iteration – Horizon 2020 – Scottish organisations secured some 852.6 million euros of the Horizon budget. This represented just over 11 per cent of the total funding awarded to UK organisations, boosting the nation’s innovation economy, and demonstrating the depth of research excellence across Scotland. We routinely punch above our weight in terms of funding secured for research.

As well as supporting fundamental research through the European Research Council, Horizon Europe has several specific goals to meet: help more than 100 European communities become climate-resilient by 2030; improve the lives of some three million people living with cancer, through prevention, cure and seeking ways to improve quality, and span, of life; restore oceans and waters by 2030; support 100 climate-neutral and smart cities by 2030; and support the creation of living laboratories to lead a transition to healthy soils. These are noble goals that should be welcomed. In particular, the recent fires and torrid heatwaves have made it increasingly clear that, with climate change, preventative action is urgent.

Maintaining collaborative relationships in uncertain times is challenging, and, beyond its financial benefits, Horizon provides a solution through initiating and maintaining international connections, especially for young scientists. By sharing ideas across borders it helps meet the global challenges faced by humanity. Horizon Europe supports open science practices – early and open access to research, unfettered access to research output, measures to ensure the reproducibility of scientific results – as does the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Such programmes are vital, and it is paramount that Scottish institutions are part of them.

During the time we inhabit this planet, we have a responsibility for it, and for each other. This includes an obligation to learn as much as we can about how it works and why, and to share this wealth of knowledge with as many people as possible. Collaboration across borders will help us do this. I thank the Prime Minister for finally reaching this vital agreement. I hope also that in future we can avoid the kind of uncertainty we have seen up until now.

The scientific community has breathed a collective sigh of relief. Now let us focus our collective intellectual mettle on the challenges at hand.

Professor Sir John Ball is president of the Royal Society of Edinburgh



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