Keeping the UK and Nottingham at the forefront of European research collaboration


October 21st, 2020

Although the immediate priority has been mitigating the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the University and our staff, we haven’t forgotten the importance of maintaining and building on our European research collaboration.

As UK/EU trade negotiations continue, colleagues in the University’s Global and Political Affairs Unit have been working with others in the sector to push for the best possible outcome for research collaboration.

We are forging closer institutional ties to important partner universities in Europe, such as the University of Tübingen, opening up new collaboration and funding opportunities. And whilst we are still eligible, we’ve been responding to European research calls at a good rate, and colleagues are urged to continue to do so. Details of support available can be found below, as well as potentially emerging domestic opportunities.

EU-funded research collaboration
Securing UK participation in the successor to the EU’s Horizon 2020 research collaboration programme, Horizon Europe, remains a priority for the University and the research community more broadly. We will keep pushing for this even when UK/EU relations appear strained. We have joined together with organisations from the Wellcome Trust to the Royal Society to produce a statement suggesting ways forward in the negotiations on Horizon Europe participation, which you can find here.

Association to Horizon Europe is the best way of ensuring we do not lose the benefits of scientific partnerships built up over decades, as well as providing a springboard to collaboration with the rest of the world. The University’s support for the statement is shown through the Russell Group signatory and I’m proud our University had a hand in its drafting.

In the meantime, the University is supporting activity in response to the remaining Horizon 2020 calls this year, for which the UK remains fully eligible to apply under the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement, with any UK participations in successful projects funded for their full duration by the European Commission as usual. Nottingham has seen record numbers of applications to the recent European Research Council Advanced Grant and Marie Sklodowska-Curie Individual Fellowships calls.

Tübingen university

Tübingen university

The European Green Deal call is the last and biggest call under Horizon 2020, worth a total of €1 billion and with a deadline in January 2021. The Green Deal call offers the opportunity for collaborative consortium responses in a variety of areas related to green and digital transformations, many of which overlap with Nottingham’s research strengths, and is a great chance to continue collaborations with existing European partners or to instigate new ones.

It’s worth noting that the government has promised funding to allow participation in Horizon Europe Programmes open to Third Countries such as most of the collaborative streams, making the development of contacts in high quality European Institutions a fruitful undertaking for the medium to long term, even if the UK does not formally participate in Horizon Europe as an “associate country”.

Please contact Matt Rackley if you’re interested in any of these calls, as support is available.

Bilateral European research partnerships
At the same time as supporting sector-wide efforts to get the best deal on EU-funded research collaboration, we are working on bilateral arrangements with partners in Europe and invite you to get in touch where we might do more of this.

Partnering with European universities can allow UK researchers to benefit from domestic and internal funding schemes, independent of EU funding. One benefit of closer partnership with the University of Tübingen, for example, is the ability to submit joint and collaborative bids to the German Research Foundation and German Academic Exchange Service, and in some cases parallel bids to UK funding bodies, strategically aligning separately funded projects with common research aims through international partnership to enhance activity. Evidencing institutional partnerships could also support funding proposals. Closer partnership can also lead to mutually beneficial institutional opportunities, such as Tübingen offering Nottingham early career researchers in priority thematic areas places on internally funded initiatives.

Other opportunities
Work is ongoing in government to create a new Discovery Fund to provide a UK alternative to the curiosity-driven and excellence-focused elements of Horizon Europe, in the event the UK does not associate to the programme. We understand first applications to the Fund would likely be in Spring 2021 and would urge colleagues to plan for this. There is also a proposed uplift in funding for the Learned Societies for existing professorial and fellowship schemes. Again, colleagues are advised to prepare for this.

Even in these testing times, it is vital we continue to explore research collaboration with our closest neighbours, as well as those further afield. As ever, please do get in touch if you have any thoughts about how we can best do this.

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