Eastern Arc’s statement on the Windsor Framework

02 March 2023

The Eastern Arc universities have a strong relationship with mainland Europe. All three are members of active networks of European universities (Aurora, Yufe, Yerun and 3i), and in the European Commission’s last research and innovation funding programme, Horizon 2020, the three universities collectively secured £74m for 168 projects.

The uncertainty around the UK’s involvement (or ‘association’) with the current framework programme, Horizon Europe, has had a significant impact on the work of our academics and researchers. Some potential applicants for funding have been reluctant to apply, and developing links with European partners has been made more difficult. 

Although we welcomed the Government’s provision of a funding guarantee for UK projects approved by the EC, as well as its work in contingency planning, we made clear that this is an imperfect solution, and that full association with Horizon Europe should be pursued as a matter of urgency to ensure that UK researchers do not lose out on the opportunity to engage and build on strong collaborations with European partners.

As such, we join with other university, business and funder groups to welcome the signing of the Windsor Framework, and the statement by the EC President, Ursula von der Leyen, that she was ‘happy to start…work on an association agreement’ as soon as the Framework was implemented.  

However, like others, we have strong concerns as to the timeframe for this work. These were voiced most recently by the Minister of State for Science, Research and Innovation, George Freeman, who suggested that it may take 9-11 months, citing the example of Swiss association. 

More seriously, we are alarmed that, having reached this point, the Prime Minister is said to be ‘sceptical’ about the value of the programme. Now, more than ever, we face huge challenges, from demographic change to the climate crisis, from the development of AI to antibacterial resistance. It is only by working collectively and globally that we can address these challenges, and full association with Horizon Europe is the clearest way that the Government can support our research sector in doing so.

We urge the Prime Minister and his government to expedite discussions that will lead to a quick and comprehensive agreement for the UK’s association to Horizon Europe. Without it, we face continued uncertainty, disengagement, and a weakening of our capacity to address these significant global threats that, if left unchecked, will adversely affect us all.

Main photo: Photo by Maximalfocus on Unsplash 

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