Hope on the “Horizon”

The past few years have been challenging for everyone – global pandemic notwithstanding. The uncertainty over Brexit and what that means for so many of us in academia has led to innumerable debates taxing the very highest minds. We paused many of our plans in research last summer as we rightly prioritised adapting our teaching model to support our student body.

Now, as we begin to emerge from the long last year, what does it mean for those of us who have built important and meaningful collaborations with partner organisations across Europe.

Well, the good news for all of us is that, while we’re not in “Europe”, we are indeed still in Europe, and that means that the UK is still a very firm and frank partner of Horizon Europe, the EU’s research and innovation programme that runs from 2021 to 2027.

….which means UK researchers still have a fair claim on the funding to be had – some €95.5 billion over the next seven years.

So, the first point to stress is that we’re still at the table when it comes to potential research funding. This is excellent news.

The second point is that it’s ours to lose – if the UK doesn’t take its share of this funding then we may not be having similar conversations in six years’ time, so we have to seize the opportunity to continue to reach out and seek funding from and with our European partners.

The third point I’d really like to stress is that now is the time to act. The first Calls for Proposals are now being launched, so now is the spring of our potential content, to de-coin a phrase (!)

The University has been an active participant in EU research over the past 30 years, and so many of us have benefited from long lasting relationships with our partners across the English Channel as well as across the world.

Surrey is ranked 156th among thousands of participating universities when it comes to successful EU research bids, and 30th in the UK, so we have a proud heritage of working with our closest neighbours that I’m very keen to see us continue.

Since 2007, we have been awarded 295 projects with an overall value of €127 million. So, we know we have a rich history of great research with our European partners, and we’re all keen to see that continue.

There are three main pillars available to us:

  1. The Excellent Science pillar supports frontier research projects through the European Research Council. It also funds fellowships and a mobility of researchers through Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions and invests in world-class research infrastructures.
  2. The Global Challenges and European Industrial Completeness pillar supports research into societal challenges, reinforces technological and industrial capacities, and sets EU-wide missions with ambitious goals tackling some of our biggest problems (health, climate change, clean energy, mobility, security, digital, materials, etc.). It supports partnerships with Member and Associate countries, industry and other stakeholders to work jointly on research and innovation.
  3. The Innovative Europe pillar aims to make Europe a frontrunner in market-creating innovation and SME growth through the European Innovation Council.

So how do you start considering research?

Start by reading the work programmes and identify topics of interest or topics close to your area of expertise. You may have contacts or know other academics elsewhere, in member or associate countries. If you don’t have these links, you can register to attend a networking/brokerage event as organised by the UK’s national contact points and the EU.

You can also use the online facility in the EU’s participant portal to place a request for finding partners. And if you receive an email inviting you to join a consortium, please do not delete it but contact the University’s EU team (see below). You can always start by joining as a partner so you get to know the process or sign up to become an evaluator so you can gain experience of what a good proposal looks like.

Support is available

There are people ready, willing and able to help you as you start to consider your options. If you are interested in bidding, please speak to Maria Sega-Buhalis in the Research Strategy team.

And finally, as you start to formulate your ideas for bids, a few helpful tips to encourage you:

  • Believe in the capacity of your research to make a difference
  • Be bold to reach for new frontiers and go beyond the state of the art
  • Collaborate – and be a great collaborator – open and with integrity
  • If your bid fails, believe in yourself, learn, grow and try again
  • Whether you are bidding, or doing the research, grit and persistence is always key – never give up!

And lastly, in any competition, sometimes we all need a bit of luck – I wish you all good luck as we continue on to the next stage of our European sojourn!!

David Sampson, with a little help from my friends, Amelia Hadfield, and Maria Sega-Buhalis

May 2021