In a move welcomed by scientists, the U.K. government has announced it will guarantee funding for research grants awarded by the European Union between now and an eventual Brexit. The decision could boost confidence for international collaborations that apply to Horizon 2020, the European Union’s main competitive grants program.
The decision provides “much-needed reassurance to researchers in the UK and across Europe that the UK is still in the game as a reliable player in research funding bids,” Sarah Main of the Campaign for Science and Engineering, an advocacy group based in London, said in a statement. “This is a great first step." Other research advocates said the move fell short of the full assurances that scientists need.
Ever since the United Kingdom voted in a June referendum to leave the European Union, scientists have worried about the future of research funding provided by the European Union, as well as Brexit's impact on workforce mobility and on the United Kingdom's voice in international science policy. Many of these issues will be decided in international negotiations after the U.K. government officially begins the process of leaving the European Union, which won’t happen until next year at the earliest.
Meanwhile, U.K. researchers are still able to apply for funding from Horizon 2020. However, anecdotal reports have suggested that some collaborators in other countries are wary of including U.K. scientists in grant proposals because of uncertainty over whether Brexit might jeopardize their proposal’s chances or future funding.
In a statement released Saturday morning, U.K. Chancellor Philip Hammond said: “British businesses and universities will have certainty over future funding and should continue to bid for competitive EU funds while the UK remains a member of the EU.” For any grants that U.K. scientists win from Horizon 2020, the treasury will underwrite the awards for their full duration, even after Brexit.
“This surely shows the commitment of the Government to science," Main said. "I feel upbeat because the political signs for science are good.”
But Scientists for EU, an advocacy group based in London, called the announcement “decidedly underwhelming” because the government has not said what will happen if U.K. scientists can no longer apply for EU money once the divorce from Europe is complete. “The big opportunity missed here is for HM [Her Majesty’s] Government to confirm that, should we leave the EU science programme, the same amounts or more will be available directly from HM Treasury,” the group wrote in a statement posted on its Facebook page.
U.K. farmers received exactly that pledge in Saturday’s announcement; they will continue to get the same amount of subsidies as they’ve received from the European Union until 2020.