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Interventionism is suddenly all the rage with the Westminster Conservative government, and higher education is feeling the impact as new policies and legislation are brought to bear on the sector, writes Johnny Rich, Chief Executive of Push and of the Engineering Professors’ Council.
A major threat to European Union research funding may be averted, university leaders say.
The European Parliament has opposed plans by the European Commission to “bulk cut” £2 billion from the Horizon2020 research and innovation programme to pay for a proposed European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI).
In a joint report, the Parliament's committees on budgets and economic and monetary affairs said that the EFSI should instead be gradually funded in the annual budgetary procedure until it reaches £6 billion by 2022. The Commission’s original proposal would have raided Horizon2020 to use it as the primary source of funding.
The committee for industry, research and energy followed the same line in its approach to the EFSI that it adopted last week.
Earlier this month, a delegation of over 50 vice chancellors from the UK visited Brussels to make the case for Horizon2020 funds to be protected.
Negotiations between the European Parliament and Council will start this week (April 20), with the aim of establishing a compromise to be voted by Parliament as a whole in June. This should allow EFSI to be operational by mid-2015, as proposed by the Commission.
Lesley Wilson, Secretary General of the European University Association, said: “EUA very much welcomes the efforts of MEPs to find alternative ways of supporting EFSI. The challenge, going forward, will be to avoid the Commission’s proposed bulk cut to Horizon2020 turning into year-on-year cuts determined by the EU’s annual budget procedure.
“Europe’s universities urge the European Parliament to remain committed to protecting European research throughout this process and call upon the European Commission and the Council of Ministers to reconsider the use of Horizon 2020 in subsequent negotiations.
“Investment in research and innovation is crucial for the competitiveness of Europe and its universities.”
Professor Sir Steve Smith, Vice Chancellor of the University of Exeter and Chair of the Universities UK International Policy Network, commented: “EU research funding enables UK universities to pursue large scale, high-impact transnational research projects which stimulate direct foreign investment and contribute to growth and competitiveness in the UK and the EU.”
Meanwhile, Jyrki Katainen, Vice-President of the European Commission, has claimed that the EC has no intention of diverting money away from research. In a letter to the Financial Times, he says the EC's planned EFSI will fund riskier and therefore more innovative research projects.
"The modernisation of university facilities, including laboratories and equipment; the construction of science parks; or dedicated telecommunication networks, data centres and related equipment for research facilities could benefit from the new EFSI.
"The Investment Plan would enable the financing of projects that have a viable business plan but whose financing needs carry a higher risk profile. In parallel, the commission will continue to award research grants and support fundamental research into blue-sky projects," he said.
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