For KTH, the European dimension is mostly about keeping a close eye on the various funding programmes for higher education and research. On 30 November, EU research ministers reached an outline agreement on the next European research programme.
Towards the end of last week, I went on a networking trip to Brussels and to find out more about what is happening with the EU 2012-2027 research programme. While Horizon Europe builds on the existing Horizon 2020, it also contains plenty of new developments.
The schedule for my two-day visit was pretty much booked solid, with visits to the EU Parliament, the Swedish Representation to the EU, the joint Vinnova and Swedish Research Council office, plus the Directorate for Research and Innovation.
KTH should gradually become better placed to compete for new projects. We are currently involved in 201 projects within Horizon 2020, more than any other Swedish university. However, in terms of funding, KTH receives less than two other Swedish universities.
There is still a fair way to go before the programme is finalised and there is a big push to conclude negotiations and reach decisions before the EU parliamentary elections in May 2019. This is mainly due to uncertainty concerning the likely composition of the new parliament. There is a risk that groups more negatively disposed to research will gain an increased mandate.
So far at least, the Horizon Europe research programme has been given a somewhat higher budget and if Brexit actually happens, this will be managed as smoothly as possible.
Compared to the current programme, the 2021-2027 programme will be implemented through three pillars:
- Open Science
- Global Challenges and Industrial Competitiveness
- Open Innovation.
One new element is missions, several of the people we met said these would be 5 or 6 of these, while others interpreted the discussions as meaning several more missions would be added. Although these missions will be broader than the current flag ships, there appears to be uncertainty as to whether both will feature in the new programme.
On the education side, the EU proposes to double funding for Erasmus+. This would be good, even though this and other budget increases are not supported from the Swedish side. Sweden is opposed to increasing funding to Brussels from the current 1 percent of GDP to 1.11 percent as a consequence of when/if the UK leaves the European partnership.
This is something I agree with, particularly as Sweden has not managed to recoup the sums earmarked for research that we pay to Brussels.
Being an expert on evaluation panels and attending workshops and seminars in Brussels are ways of learning more about how to be successful in winning EU projects. There is a constant need for evaluators and forwarding your candidature to participate is a good move. I myself have been an evaluator on the Co-fund project, which was very instructive. Naturally, cutting edge research and impact, plus an international presence, put you in a better position to win EU funding.
We need to understand and discuss events in Brussels in more detail, and this is especially the case when it comes to what is happening in the EU Parliament. We lack this kind of coverage in Sweden, something I was reminded of after my two-day visit.
There are many access paths to activities in Brussels. KTH’s participation in networks such as Caesar and Cluster is one important gateway. By taking on a higher workload and adopting a greater presence, KTH will be in a good position to influence the direction of the coming Horizon Europe.