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Lidia Borrell-Damián from the European University Association argues the European Commission’s Horizon Europe initiative holds great promise for the future of research and innovation in Europe. This editorial was first published on Open Access Government on 19 September 2018.

Horizon Europe holds great promise. It aims to improve the current European Union (EU) Framework Programme for Research & Innovation by making it simpler and enhancing its efficiency. It also has the potential to invest more in Europe’s research and innovation, and, therefore, better serve society. However, to make this promise a reality, the programme needs the right policy mix. Horizon Europe must be designed to advance research and innovation by investing in a knowledge-based society.

To do this, it must involve universities across all pillars of the programme, have a budget to meet its ambitions and deliver through new instruments like mission-oriented research and innovation and the European Innovation Council. It must also address the shortcomings of Horizon 2020, including its considerable low success rate and promote Open Access.

The increase of the Horizon Europe budget to €100 billion, as proposed by the European Commission, is a step in the right direction. However, a budget of €160 billion is really what is needed to reach the programme’s ambitious goals of reinforcing excellence across Europe. It will take serious resources to fund and strengthen the European Research Council, the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions, as well as research infrastructures. Plus, by keeping excellence and competitive funding calls at the centre of Horizon Europe, we are bound to increase efficiency in the programme. 

The reinforced policies towards open scholarly knowledge in Horizon Europe will set a good standard to favour Open Science. Both the upcoming open research publishing platform and the European Open Science Cloud will be fundamental for driving the transition to an open, transparent, efficient and sustainable R&I landscape. While this policy objective is backed through legislative efforts on the European level, such as the copyright reform, national governments need to do their part as a full transition means coordination and alignment between European and national levels. 

In a global context, Horizon Europe is also an opportunity for universities to serve society by addressing the global challenges addressed by the UN Sustainable Development Goals. In this respect, novel instruments like the European Innovation Council and Mission-Oriented research must have as their ultimate objective the generation of business, social, cultural and ecological innovation. Since universities are highly responsive to societal needs, it will be crucial to mobilise and unleash their potential in tackling grand challenges through multidisciplinary, collaborative research projects.

The programme will also offer a chance to minimise discrepancies across the EU and strengthen the European Research Area. It has the potential to enable lower performing countries to increase their research and innovation capacity, closing the gap with higher performing countries from the bottom up. A transversal programme section dedicated to this goal would give Horizon Europe the ability to open new and equal horizons for researchers across the continent. In turn, collaborative research by excellent consortia from high- and less-performing regions will be an opportunity to strengthen the European Research Area. 

Bringing all of these topics together, investing in stronger links between education and research and innovation will support the development of human talent, which is at the root of Europe’s ingenuity and fuels its competitiveness across the globe. Horizon Europe has the to potential to foster this and that is why the human factor and the role of universities at the root of the knowledge triangle should be enhanced in the next generation of EU funding programmes.

For example, Horizon Europe projects should offer the possibility of linking research to education and sharing research results with students. And the hotly-debated idea to create strong networks of European universities could usher in a new dynamic within higher education in Europe, both giving visibility to existing networks and providing incentives for new collaborations.

A well-funded Horizon Europe that promotes an excellent and open scholarly system serves society’s needs, enables lower performing countries to raise the bar and promotes the link between education and research and innovation, is indeed a golden opportunity for Europe.

Original article.


Lidia Borrell-Damián

Lidia Borrell Damian is EUA Director for Research and Innovation. Among other EU policy priorities, she has contributed to the work of the Helsinki Group on Gender and to the Gender Group of the European Research Area Stakeholders Platform.

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