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The UK’s return to Horizon Europe: A new era for science, innovation and collaboration




Scientific Research

Last week, Rishi Sunak announced the UK’s return to the Horizon Europe programme, bringing a collective sigh of relief to scientists and researchers across the nation. Since 2021, the UK has navigated a state of uncertainty, imposing a reliance on domestic grants and funding for scientific research.

Now, UK scientists can apply for Horizon Europe funding and lead Horizon Europe projects, starting from January 2024. This development extends beyond the scientific community, benefiting businesses, universities and the entire nation.

What does this mean for UK science?

The UK’s reintegration into Horizon Europe signifies a return to the forefront of scientific and technological advancement.

With a substantial budget of €95.5 billion (£82 billion), Horizon Europe stands as the world’s most ambitious global research funding scheme.

The UK’s renewed membership in Horizon Europe creates a significant advantage for the country’s researchers, universities, and businesses, providing them with access to a widened range of funding opportunities. With grants and support, the UK is presented with unparalleled opportunities in projects aimed to combat climate change, seek cures for cancer, foster sustainable oceans, transform cities into climate-neutral hubs, and promote healthy agriculture.

Economically, the benefits are substantial too. The programme places a strong emphasis on transforming scientific breakthroughs into viable businesses.

This has the potential to create a multitude of new companies, generating jobs and careers while reinforcing the UK and Europe’s positions as leading tech hubs on the global stage.

Beyond economic advantages, the return to Horizon Europe offers valuable cross-border collaborative opportunities with European counterparts. International co-operation is at the core of this scheme, enabling researchers from the UK and across Europe to address pressing global challenges such as climate change, healthcare and computing.

The reinstatement of this membership signifies a monumental step forward for scientific discovery and innovation for both the UK and Europe, creating exceptional prospects for researchers, businesses and universities promoting economic growth and global recognition. It rejuvenates international collaboration, boosts the competitiveness of UK science, and enables the nation to be positioned as a leader in scientific advancement.

The three pillars of Horizon Europe:

I. Excellent Science: This pillar focuses on supporting world-class scientific research, fostering talent, and reinforcing the European Research Area. It includes programmes like the European Research Council (ERC), Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA), and the European Research Infrastructure Consortium (ERIC).

II. Global Challenges and European Industrial Competitiveness: This pillar addresses societal challenges and aims to bridge the gap between research and the market. It includes clusters that focus on topics such as health, digitalisation, climate, energy, and transport, among others. Initiatives like the European Innovation Council (EIC) fall under this pillar.

III. Innovative Europe: Designed to support the development and uptake of cutting-edge technologies, stimulate business creativity, and enhance the overall environment for progress in Europe. It includes programmes like the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) and various initiatives aimed at promoting advancement in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

Horizon Europe also emphasises the importance of responsible research and innovation, open science, and gender equality in research and innovation activities. It encourages collaboration between academia, industry, and other stakeholders to address pressing global challenges and drive economic growth.

Horizon Europe is driven by five mission areas:

Adaptation to Climate Change

This mission aims to help 150+ European regions become climate-resilient by 2030, supported by over 300 regional authorities. This mission focuses on research and innovation efforts to help to adapt to the effects of climate change, seeking to develop solutions and strategies to mitigate the impacts of changing climate patterns on various aspects of society and the environment.

Cure for Cancer

This mission seeks to improve the lives of 3+ million people by 2030 through cancer prevention, cures, and enhanced support. It’s driving innovation in cancer research and data analysis aiming to find new and more effective ways to prevent, diagnose, and treat cancer. The mission also seeks to improve the lives of cancer patients and ultimately find cures for various types of cancer.

Healthy Oceans, Seas, and Coastal Inland Waters

This mission area is dedicated to the protection and restoration of marine and freshwater ecosystems. Focusing on protecting and restoring aquatic ecosystems, with “lighthouses” creating solutions for over 100 European regions. It aims to promote the sustainable management of oceans, seas, and inland waters, addressing issues such as pollution, overfishing, and habitat conservation.

Climate-Neutral and Smart Cities

This mission focuses on transforming cities into climate-neutral, smart, and sustainable urban environments. Aiming to achieve 100 climate neutral and smart cities by 2030, and ensure that they all act as innovation and experimentation hubs to all European cities. This involves research initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve energy efficiency, and enhance the overall quality of life in urban areas.

Soil Health and Food

This mission aims to promote sustainable agriculture, improve soil health, and enhance food security. With a goal to establish 100 Living Labs and Lighthouses by 2030 to promote sustainable soil management, harmonised monitoring, and innovative soil-friendly practices. This will involve research and innovation efforts to develop environmentally friendly agricultural practices, improve soil quality, and ensure a resilient and secure food supply.

​What does this mean for Science Card’s customers?

The integration of the UK into Horizon Europe will undoubtedly enhance research opportunities in this country. This development will pave the way for an increased number of research projects available on the Science Card platform. Importantly, the pillars and missions integral to Horizon Europe closely align with the core values championed by Science Card, collectively fostering an enriched environment for innovation and contributing to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Additionally, with more funding available, a multitude of accomplished researchers will remain or return to the UK, drawn by the rich academic opportunities available. This will contribute to elevating the UK’s status as a prominent global research hub. These skilled individuals with exciting projects will have the opportunity to seek Science Card funding, enhancing the outlook for innovation even further.

Science Card is actively engaged in collaborative efforts with UK universities, solidifying the alignment and synergy between UK institutions, the private sector, and the missions of Horizon Europe.

To conclude, reinstating the UK’s participation in Horizon Europe heralds an exciting era in scientific exploration, groundbreaking innovation, and international cooperation. This move equips the UK with the leverage to fortify its status as a powerhouse in global scientific research, fuel economic expansion, and tackle critical global issues head-on. The reverberations of this decision are far-reaching, and the prospects are substantial: over the longer term Horizon will undoubtedly have a significant positive and tangible impact on our daily lives, and towards ensuring a sustainable future.