Support advocated to help Scottish researchers access European funds

28/06/2012

Support to help Scottish researchers in accessing European grants including Horizon 2020 should be better promoted, according to a report published today by the Scottish Parliament’s European and External Relations Committee.

The recommendation follows evidence that whilst Scotland’s research and academia have been successful in drawing down European funds, Scotland’s business sector has fallen short of the EU target (13.5% participation to target of 15%). Within the twelve UK regions, Scotland had the ninth lowest spend in 2010 on Business Enterprise Research and Development, unlike the Higher Education Research and Development spend where Scotland is top.

Horizon 2020 is a European fund which will fund projects from 2014-2020 with a view to strengthening the EU’s position in science and its industrial leadership in innovation. It is thought Horizon 2020 funding could be worth £351 million to the Scottish economy between 2014 and 2020.

Committee Convener Christina McKelvie MSP said:

“Horizon 2020 has the potential to bring a large stream of funding into Scottish businesses and help our economy grow. We have been encouraged by the work of the European Commission, and UK and Scottish Governments to simplify the process and help people successfully engage.

“However, to date, Scotland’s businesses have yet to replicate the success of our academic institutions in applying for grants. Our Committee felt raising businesses’ awareness to the support available was an urgent priority. Scotland’s businesses do not lack innovation and our Committee is determined to do all we can to help them find out about and successfully apply for the Horizon 2020 funding they need to drive their ideas forward.”

The Committee considers raising the awareness of the Government support available to assist applicants through the funding processes is an urgent priority, particularly amongst Small and Medium Sized Enterprises. This support aims to help maximise uptake of European funding streams. The Committee has recommended the UK and Scottish Governments should make every effort to further facilitate engagement with the support on offer through signposting, navigating and providing necessary advice.

During the inquiry, the Committee hosted a conference on Horizon 2020 to raise awareness of the opportunities it offers Scotland and to provide a networking opportunity to encourage a more collaborative approach to working on projects and getting ideas to market. The themes that emerged were:

  • Awareness – the Committee found that there was a poor awareness of European funding opportunities in general and Horizon 2020 opportunities in particular. 
  • Support – the Committee learned that key to accessing EU funds was the nature and scale of support available to applicants. 
  • Networks – the Committee learned of the importance of establishing networks to share good practice, provide mentoring and resources and early warning offer of developments.

In its report, the Committee recommends the Scottish Government undertakes a comparative study to determine whether the new funding arrangements in place since the Scottish Proposal Assistance Fund (SPAF) ceased to exist are adequate. The report also recommends the Government ensures that the work of the Programme Assistance for European Research (PACER) programme currently undergoing review is also maintained.

The report will be presented at the European Parliament on 11 July and will feed into on-going negotiations regarding Horizon 2020.

Background

The European Commission published its proposals for Horizon 2020 on 30 November 2011. Horizon 2020 aims to bring together all EU research and innovation funding within a single programme and has a proposed budget of some €80bn for the period 2014-2020.

It is structured round three main pillars aimed at:

  • Strengthening the EU’s position in science (“Excellent Science” - with a proposed budget of €25bn).
  • Strengthening industrial leadership in innovation through investment in key technologies, greater access to capital and support for SMEs (“Industrial Leadership” - €18bn).
  • Addressing major concerns such as climate change, developing sustainable transport and mobility, making renewable energy more affordable, ensuring food safety and security, and coping with the challenge of an ageing population (“Societal Challenges” - €32bn).

Horizon 2020 will replace the former funding stream known as FP7. Under FP7, from 2007 to April 2012, 351 million Euros of funds were secured in Scotland, with 789 Scottish organisations being involved in more than 4000 projects. For example, STMicroelectronics, a European supplier in broad-range microelectronic components, received assistance from Scotland Europa and the National Contact Point in submitting a proposal under FP7. Involving the University of Edinburgh, the project created a multinational consortium which obtained £3.7 million of EU funding for Scottish research.

The Horizon 2020 proposals are currently the subject of co-decision negotiations between the European Parliament and Council in Brussels. This report feeds into that thinking and negotiation. It is anticipated that Horizon 2020 will launch 1 January 2014.

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