Select Committee on Science and Technology Ninth Report


6  Europe and research

Overview

106. The main mechanism for supporting collaborative, trans-national research in the European Union is the EU's Framework Programme. It has three aims:

i.  Strengthen the EU's science and technology base;

ii.  Improve the EU's competitiveness; and

iii.  Support EU policy development.[200]

The first Framework Programme was launched in 1984. Since then, several programmes and strategies have been developed at an EU level to support collaborative research and improve the sharing of knowledge. In 2000, the European Union created the concept of the European Research Area (ERA). This meant creating a unified area across Europe that would enable researchers to move between institutions, allow the development of European research programmes, and encourage knowledge to be shared and transferred at a European level.[201] The most recent Framework Programme, Framework Programme 7 (FP7), was launched on 22 December 2006 with a budget of €53 million.[202] FP7 will cover the period 2006-2013 and is seen as a major tool for achieving the EU's 2005 Lisbon objectives and the 2002 Barcelona Council aim of increasing the European research effort to 3% of the EU's GDP by 2010.[203]

Box 4: European Research Activities

Framework Programme 7 (FP7)

FP7 is the main mechanism for supporting collaborative, trans-national research and technological development in the EU. The programme represents the third largest item in the EU budget and operates on an internationally collaborative basis.

The broad objectives of FP7 have been grouped into four categories:

Co-operation

Budget of approximately €32,413 million over seven years.

Supports all types of research activities carried out by research bodies in trans-national co-operation. Thematic areas: health, food, agriculture and fisheries, biotechnology, ICT, nanosciences, nanotechnologies, materials and new production technologies, energy, environment, transport, socio-economic sciences and humanities, space and security.

Ideas

Budget of approximately €300 million a year.

Proposes a trans-European mechanism to support creative scientific research.

Involves creation of European Research Council (see below).

People

Budget of approximately €4.7 billion over seven years.

Will cover all stages of researchers' professional lives from initial training to continuing professional development

Capacities

Budget of €4,097 million over seven years.

To enhance research and innovation capacities through Europe in six areas: research infrastructures; research for the benefit of SMEs; regions of knowledge and support for regional research-driven clusters; research potential of Convergence Regions; science in society; support for the coherent development of policy; and international co-operation.

European Research Council (ERC)

Part of the FP7 Ideas programme.

Will fund investigator-driven research across all fields of science with evaluation based on sole criterion of excellence. Funding will be granted to individual European scientists with no requirement for trans-national collaboration.

European Research Area Networks (ERA-NETs)

An FP6 funding mechanism, expanded in FP7, designed to promote cooperation and co-planning between funders of national research programmes. UK Research Councils are involved in more than 20 ERA-NETs.

European Institute of Technology (EIT)

EIT is intended to help strengthen innovation performance across the European Research Area. It will set up strategic long term partnerships between various players in knowledge transfer. Discussions about the EIT are on-going with aim of establishing it in 2008 with a budget of €2.4 billion.

European Technology Platforms (ETPs)

Provide a framework for stakeholders, led by industry, to define research and development priorities, timeframes and action plans on a number of strategically important issues where achieving Europe's future growth, competitiveness and sustainability objectives is dependent upon major research and technological advances in the medium to long term.

Joint Technology Initiatives (JTIs)

The Commission is launching JTIs under FP7. They will pool funding from the private sector, European and national research programmes towards common research goals in priority technology areas.

107. It is too early to establish how well represented the UK will be in FP7. The UK performed well in FP6, which had a budget of €19 billion. The latest data show that approximately 5,000 UK participants were supported in FP6, receiving around 14.5% of the funding available (approximately €1.74 billion).[204] In this respect, the UK was second only to Germany. This is, however, a drop in participation from previous Framework Programmes (FP4 and FP5) where the UK took first place.[205] An example of the UK's engagement with the Framework Programmes is the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research. This Institute has been a partner in 15 FP5 and three FP 6 projects, all of which included private sector partners.[206]

108. Several submissions have raised concerns regarding the European Institute of Technology. RCUK identifies a number of significant uncertainties such as the governance structure, the relationship between the EIT and existing structures, the added value of the EIT and its budget.[207] The University and College Union is anxious that the EIT project might be supported at a cost to other research activities and will be problematic in areas such as governance, academic freedom and intellectual property rights.[208] These concerns, particularly regarding the EIT's budget, echo the findings of the House of Lords European Union Committee and the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee.[209] These issues are largely beyond the scope of this inquiry but we may return to them in future.

109. Although the Framework Programmes are the main mechanism for supporting research between countries, it is worth noting that collaborations in Europe also take place outside the Framework Programmes often at a researcher-to-researcher level.[210]

GOVERNMENT AND FRAMEWORK 7

110. The OSI has co-ordinated the work by Government departments on the Framework Programmes. The OSI and the lead Government department for an area, for example Defra on agriculture and fisheries, work with the Research Councils in order to work out the UK interests on the relevant EU programme. Defra notes that BBSRC and NERC worked closely with it during negotiations on FP7 and provided input to the development of Environment and Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, and Biotechnology themes.[211]

111. The Government funds a number of promotion and support services aimed at raising awareness of the Framework Programmes and helping organisations to participate (see Table 3). Each Member State has a network of National Contact Points (NCPs) that provide information and advice on specific areas of the programme. The OSI states that in the UK, "NCPs undertake a wide range of activities such as awareness raising, advice and assistance, and signposting organisations to other funding programmes, if FP is not suitable."[212] RCUK told us that, under FP 6 and FP7, the Research Councils are "increasingly taking on the policy lead and this NCP role - although OSI retains a coordinating, cross-cutting role which works well."[213]

RESEARCH COUNCILS AND FRAMEWORK 7

112. The Research Councils have been involved in the Framework Programmes since their inception and were involved in more than 200 projects under FP6.[214] RCUK states that the Research Councils fulfil a number of roles in relationship to FPs including:

a)  "influencing and shaping overall policy direction and thematic priorities

b)  promoting opportunities and stimulating the participation of UK researchers and UK business

c)  encouraging the adoption of good practice in the funding, delivery and exploitation of research

d)  supporting greater cooperation and integration between European national research funding bodies

e)  participation in research through research council institutes."[215]

As mentioned above, Research Councils are often the National Contact Point (NCP). For FP7, MRC is the NCP for health academics, and UKRO is the NCP for the European Research Council and Mobility programmes.[216]

113. We have heard contrasting opinions about the Research Councils' involvement with the Framework Programmes. UKCRC says that it does not believe that any further support from RCUK to stimulate UK participation is needed, or desirable.[217] Professor Shaun Quegan from the University of Sheffield states that NERC "provides good information flow as regards EU FP7 opportunities through regular e-mail communications and events."[218] Other organisations have said that the Research Councils' work in this area could be improved. The Royal Academy of Engineering says that there is "scope for greater coordination between the Research Councils and the EU Framework Programmes."[219] It states further that the Research Councils take little, if any account of European priorities.[220] The University of Warwick and the University of Leeds told us that there is little dedicated travel money for preparatory work pre-award for Framework activity and the Research Councils should consider providing a small amount of funding for travel and preparation costs.[221] The University of Warwick commented in particular upon the AHRC, saying that it "has not offered any sort of travel or project preparation grants for FP7 nor has it run any tailored information sessions for researchers."[222]

114. Recurrent themes in the submissions were two main problems with the European programmes: bureaucracy, and funding difficulties because funding does not cover full economic costs. On the first point, the Deafness, Cognition and Language Research Centre at University College London told us that "the level and amount of bureaucracy involved in the various framework schemes, and a perception of less than transparent assessment and appraisal, have often deterred would-be UK applicants from major involvement".[223] The Royal Society stated that EU programmes are "excessively prescriptive, restrictive and bureaucratic".[224] These submissions echo our predecessor Committee's findings in 2003.[225] The OSI acknowledged the bureaucratic reputation of the Framework Programmes but told us that the Commission had undertaken a major exercise to improve matters and had introduced a number of innovations such as a simpler set of funding schemes, a single registration procedure and reduced reporting and audit requirements.[226]

115. Secondly, there is the problem of meeting the full economic costs of research from European funds. In 2002, the Government reviewed the dual support model for funding university research and concluded that without some changes, the high productivity of the UK research base would not be financially sustainable in the longer term. Following a consultation exercise in 2003, the Government announced three measures to help put university research funding on a sustainable basis: higher education institutes (HEIs) were asked to adopt the Transparent Approach to Costing (TRAC) methodology to enable them to estimate the full economic costs (FEC) of research; HEIs were asked to recover in aggregate, the full economic costs of their activities; and Research Councils were asked to increase the proportion of the full economic cost paid to HEIs for research. FEC is not, however, available from the Commission in relation to projects funded under Framework Programmes. The Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering told us that HEIs are reluctant to apply for FP funding because the contribution to overheads is significantly less than the full economic cost of research in the UK.[227] The Royal Astronomical Society states that in many cases, universities and public sector research institutes have to find a quarter of FP7 project funding from other sources. It said that the Research Councils should help researchers to find ways of funding this shortfall.[228]

116. We believe that the Research Councils could improve their support for researchers applying for European funding. We are concerned that European programmes are less attractive to UK researchers because the programmes have a reputation for bureaucracy and are unlikely to cover the full economic costs of research. DIUS should work with the Research Councils to advertise the improvements in Framework Programme 7 to reduce bureaucracy and speed up processes. DIUS, Research Councils, HEFCE and universities should work together to devise a solution to cover the shortfall between Framework Programme 7 funding and the full economic costs of research.


200   Ev 156 Back

201   European Scrutiny Committee, Twentieth Report of Session 2006-07, HC 41-xx Back

202   Ev 156 Back

203   Ev 50 Back

204   Of the contracts signed to July 2006. Back

205   Technopolis Ltd, The Impact of the EU Framework Programmes in the UK, July 2004  Back

206   Ev 72 Back

207   Ev 98 Back

208   Ev 82 Back

209   House of Lords European Union Sub-Committee D, Thirteenth Report of Session 2006-07 Proposal to Establish the European Institute of Technology: Interim Report, April 2007, HL69; House of Lords European Union Sub-Committee D, Twenty-fifth Report of Session 2006-07, Proposal to Establish the European Institute of Technology, June 2007, HL 130 ; House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee, Twenty-sixth Report of Session 2006-07, HC 41-xxvi, para 4.11 Back

210   Q 74  Back

211   Ev 49 Back

212   Ev 156 Back

213   Ev 91 Back

214   Ev 157 Back

215   Ev 95 Back

216   Ev 96 Back

217   Ev 46 Back

218   Ev 44 Back

219   Ev 67 Back

220   As above. Back

221   Ev 78, 56 Back

222   Ev 56 Back

223   Ev 44 Back

224   Ev 62 Back

225   Science and Technology Committee, Sixth Report of Session 2002-03, UK Science and Europe: Value for Money?, HC 386-I, p 32-33 Back

226   Ev 157 Back

227   Ev 61 Back

228   Ev 71 Back


 
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