University practitioners provide concrete recommendations for a simpler Horizon Europe

20 September 2018

The road towards Horizon Europe reached a new milestone in September with discussions in the European Parliament on possible amendments to the Commission’s proposals (see the series of amendments put forward by EUA and 12 other university associations). 

As the Committee for Industry, Research and Energy prepares to vote on the text at the beginning of November, a number of tensions emerge with the EU Council. A particular bone of contention is the overall budget for the programme, which the Commission proposed to set at 100 billion Euros and which the Parliament increasingly appears to want to push up to 120 billion Euros. The timing for the decision-making process is also at stake, as the European Commission and Parliament wish to reach an agreement on the programme as early as possible, and while the Member States have diverging stances on this question. Other aspects are subject to debate, including the possible use of additional criteria to distinguish between equally rated ERC proposals, the possibility to introduce blind evaluation processes, and the reimbursement of staff costs in the light of the challenge of diverse salary levels throughout Europe. There is however broad agreement between the Commission and the Parliament that synergies between EU funding programmes need to be boosted.

A simpler management of EU funding has indeed long been associated with the provision of a single set of rules for all beneficiaries of EU programmes. However, as revealed through the work of EUA, while this option supports clarity and certainty of action, it fails to acknowledge participants’ diverse profiles. These could be better met through the provision of several options to accommodate different needs, including a framework for improving the acceptance of beneficiaries’ accounting and management practices.

In “Accepting university accounting practices under Horizon Europe: a compendium of national and institutional cases”, university practitioners from 12 European countries provide solid data based on their direct experience in managing national and EU funded research projects. The report features practical information on accounting practices applied to the management of nationally funded research projects. These are compared to current Horizon 2020 rules to explore possibilities for a better alignment of practices between the EU and those at national level.

In view of the forthcoming adoption of the Horizon Europe rules for participation, the report aims to contribute to the transparency of the discussions promoting a broader acceptance of institutional practices as a major step towards simplifying EU funding. It builds on EUA’s earlier work on financially sustainable universities by providing updated information about the current state of development of costing methodologies in European universities. The analysis shows that universities across Europe have a professional financial management and that many European research funders accept their institutional practices.

Embracing and making operational a trust-based approach can support greater alignment between European, national and regional programmes in the next generation of EU funds for research and innovation. In order to achieve this, the data gathered in the compendium have been summarised in concrete strategic and practical recommendations addressed to EU policy makers.

The compendium also provides a new opportunity for national policy-makers and research funders to compare and benchmark practices at European level. This discussion will be taken up explicitly with university leaders, the European Commission, as well as public and private funders at the upcoming 4th EUA Funding Forum.

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