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Rectors press for bigger role in EU budget battle

Germany’s Länder must strengthen the case for the participation of their universities in the ongoing EU budget negotiations for 2014-2020, the German Rectors’ Conference (HRK) has said.

In a 16 October statement, the HRK called on local governments to make sure that the needs and strengths of universities are fully taken into account in applications for EU structural funds and in discussions about priorities for what these funds should be spent on. It said this would allow governments to make a stronger case for themselves, based on successfully combining structural fund investment with innovation.

The rules around the payment of structural funds to European regions will be different in the multi-annual financial framework that starts in 2014. Under the revised rules, applicants need to prove that the money will be spent on local “fields of strategic excellence” and ensure that structural funding is directly aimed at regional economic development.

As a highly developed country, Germany is likely to see less funding overall, said the HRK. But university participation could become part of regional strategies to make a case for continued receipt of structural funds, said Horst Hippler, the president of the HRK.

“At present we see only fragments of satisfactory participation of higher education institutions [in funding priority setting]—for example, in lower Saxony,” Hippler said.

He added that application strategies for structural funds need to be ready by the middle of next year, and that now is the time for governments to get their universities more involved.

During a meeting of the HRK senate in Berlin, HRK members also warned of potential reductions in the next EU research budget, which was proposed at €80 billion. As member states are struggling with lagging economies, the programme could face serious cuts, said an HRK statement.

Hippler called on German diplomats and politicians in Brussels to take a strong stand on protecting the budget.

“The German government has always strongly spoken out in favour of using research spending to take Europe out of the crisis,” he said. “Those member states which have floated amounts of €60bn or even €40bn need to hear a clear refusal.”