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EU to invest €1B to encourage foreign participation in Horizon 2020

The Commission is putting in the money to attract more international researchers after a substantial fall in the demand for grants from countries outside the EU

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The EU Commission is to target €1 billion to attract more foreign researchers to Horizon 2020 after the number of international grant winners fell to a lowly 2.2 per cent.

This is in contrast to the preceding Framework Programme 7 under which almost 5 per cent of grants were awarded to researchers in countries outside the EU.

The drop off is partially explained by a change in the rules which means researchers in Brazil, Russia, India, China and Mexico must get matched funding from their own governments. Legal constraints caused by certain provisions of the Horizon 2020 grant agreement have also dissuaded some researchers.   

But countries such as the US, Canada and Japan, operating under the same rules as before, are considerably less involved in Horizon 2020 than in FP7.

“There has been a substantial drop,” said Maria Cristina Russo, director for international cooperation at the European Commission’s research directorate, speaking at a Science|Business conference last week.

The Commission will try to remedy the situation with up to 15 new flagship projects that aim to increase the involvement of foreign researchers during the final three years of Horizon 2020.

“We will spend €1 billion on these flagships, which should lead to a one per cent increase in participation,” said Russo.

Existing initiatives involving foreign researchers will be scaled-up. These include the EU-Africa partnership on food, nutrition security and sustainable agriculture; the EU-China cooperation in food, agriculture and biotechnology; and an all Atlantic Ocean research alliance.

New areas of cooperation will include a data sharing initiative for personalised medicine with Canada and collaboration on clean energy through the US Mission Innovation Initiative.

The Commission will release more information on these topics via the next Horizon 2020 work programme on October 27.

Ring-fence money

The conference heard various suggestions for how international participation could be increased, with several people advocating a return to the system where money was ring-fenced for certain projects requiring international partners.

“We should go back to what was exercised before – certain funds earmarked for international cooperation. This will take us out of this conundrum,” said Abdelhamid El-Zoheiry, president of the Euro-Mediterranean University. “At least let’s have a target for higher participation.”

Access to EU money is of great interest for countries with less developed science systems. “We have a small science base so it is good to leverage international partnerships,” said Vinny Pillay, counsellor at the department of science and technology in South Africa’s EU mission.

A very good example of a dedicated EU project with foreign partners is the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership, a publicly funded research project which works to strengthen, or in some cases establish, clinical research capacity in developing countries.

Boost foreign exchange

The conference also heard a general plea for more promotion of Europe as an attractive region for researchers from all over the world. “We don’t see a lot of our researchers wanting to come to Europe,” said Sonia Ortega, head of the US National Science Foundation’s Europe office.

People are not getting enough information on the continent’s over-looked science hotspots, Ortega said. “I was in Czech Republic recently and blown away by the infrastructure they have for researchers. So I think we can do better.”

Lamy calls for relaxed foreign partnership rules

A report by former head of the World Trade Organization Pascal Lamy published on Monday called for a relaxing of the rules governing international participation, so rich, foreign countries can join the programme more easily.

“Trading partners of a similar level of excellence” – such as Canada and Australia – should be able to join the programme as associate members. Currently, this form of membership is limited to countries physically close to the bloc, such as Israel and Turkey.

The UK, now in the process of leaving the bloc, should be admitted into any future EU research programme, the report added.

“[The] full and continued engagement with the UK within the post-2020 EU R&I programme remains an obvious win-win for the UK and the EU. A positive cooperation model should be established,” it reads.

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Related subjects: International collaboration, Horizon 2020