Thursday, 7 July 2011

European Funding: What's on the Horizon?

Keith Sequeira, Policy Officer for the Framework Programme and Simplification Unit, gave an insight into the development of the future framework programme, Horizon 2020, in his keynote address to the UKRO Conference in Newcastle on Thursday.

This was an important time for Horizon 2020: the proposed budget had been announced last week, and the starting gun for negotiations had been fired. Horizon 2020 would combine elements of FP7, the Competitiveness & Innovation Programme (CIP), and the European Institute of Technology (EIT), as well as linking to relevant parts of regional and structural funds. An increase of 46% had been proposed (to €80bn), but Sequeira made it clear that, whilst this sounded like a large increase, it represented a steady increase on the funding levels reached at the end of FP7.

In terms of the content of Horizon 2020, there would be three broad ‘pillars’, with a fourth set of cross cutting priorities:
  • Supporting excellence in science base: to face the imbalance with the USA, and the challenges from China, by attracting, developing and supporting world class research, through the continuation of such streams as the European Research Council (ERC), Future and Emerging Technologies (FET), Marie Curie Actions (MCA) and research infrastructures.
  • Tackling societal challenges: identified as health, food security, secure and green energy, smart, green and integrated transport, raw materials and climate, and inclusive societies.
  • Integrating innovation and links with business: including leveraging private finance.
  • Cross cutting priorities: in particular simpler access and openness to newcomers.
Overall, Horizon 2020 aimed to integrate research and innovation, and meet the objectives of Europe2020 and the Innovation Union. The EC wanted to move away from prescriptive descriptions of tools and methods, and instead present the problem to be solved and leave it to individuals to decide best way to do so.

There was a strong appetite for simplification. But then, how many times have we heard that before? However, they do sound serious this time. Inter alia, they intended to introduce:
  • a rationalised set of funding schemes and instruments;
  • a single set of rules for eligibility, accounting, reporting and auditing;
  • a simplified approach to cost reimbursement;
  • a broader acceptance of usual accounting practice and greater use of lump sums and flat rates;
  • shorter negotiation and selection phases;
  • a unique IT portal, common support structures, and guidance which would build on EPSS of FP7;
  • more use of external management of the programme, through such bodies as the Research Executive Agency (REA), which already runs the MCA.
The budget and structure would continue to be discussed in the final years of FP7, and UKRO would continue to inform the UK HE sector on developments.

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