The UK government is providing a support package worth nearly £500 million for the research sector amid continuing delays to the country’s association to European research programmes. The package includes £130 million to help universities strengthen their research capabilities and retain talent, £200 million for research infrastructure and over £120 million for nuclear fusion projects.
Announcing the new funds, science minister George Freeman acknowledged the ‘significant uncertainty’ faced by the research sector over the last 19 months caused by the lack of access to EU research programmes. Full UK association to programmes like Horizon Europe has been blocked amid a political dispute between the UK government and the European commission.
While Freeman reiterated his desire to see the UK fully associate to Horizon, he explained that the government ‘cannot wait forever to invest’ funds that it has set aside for research.
‘These investments will provide targeted support during this time of uncertainty,’ he wrote in an open letter posted on the government’s website. ‘They will support staff retention and local talent strategies at eligible universities and research organisations, ensure the UK’s labs remain world class and at the cutting edge of R&D and offer universities and research organisations the discretion to apply the funding in ways that best suit their local needs.’
Responding to the announcement, the Russell Group’s head of policy Stephanie Smith noted that the funding would ‘provide some welcome support’ while discussions over Horizon association continue.
‘The research and science community on both sides of the channel continue to make clear that full UK participation in Horizon Europe remains the best outcome, and we hope to see a breakthrough soon that will unlock the enormous benefits it would bring to the UK and EU,’ she said. ‘In the meantime, this new investment in UK research excellence and infrastructure is a tangible realisation of the government’s economic agenda, building on our people and ideas to deliver innovation-driven growth.’