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To make the most of Horizon, universities must look inwards too

The past month has seen a flurry of good news for the EU’s €93.5 billion research and innovation programme. Hot on the heels of talks restarting over Switzerland joining Horizon Europe came the news that the bloc had reached an agreement for South Korea to join as an associate member. The Asian country’s researchers are expected to be eligible for funding under the scheme’s global challenges and industrial competitiveness pillar from 2025.

Taken alongside association agreements with New Zealand and Canada and the UK’s much-anticipated return, these developments signal that the EU’s flagship R&I scheme is becoming what its proponents always wanted it to be: a genuinely outward-looking programme, facilitating invaluable collaboration between researchers both within the EU and beyond.

Describing South Korea’s association as a “true win-win”, Ole Petter Ottersen, acting head of the Guild of European Research-Intensive Universities, said this week that “even in the current geopolitical situation, we should do our best to be ‘open to the world’”.

To make the most of these opportunities, however, universities and their research teams may also need to address some issues much closer to home. 

Successful bids to major schemes like Horizon tend to go hand in hand with knowledgeable support within a university. But last autumn, a Research Professional News survey indicated that the research management teams that are integral to this are being hampered by a lack of engagement with researchers. Research office staff identified this as the biggest challenge in their institutions’ pursuit of funding.

This lack of engagement—often driven by a lack of awareness of the specialist support that research managers can offer—is exacerbated by differences in the roles research management professionals play in different institutions. As Nik Claesen, managing director of the European Association of Research Managers and Administrators, puts it this week: “There is no common understanding and certainly no standards.”

Earma is attempting to address this issue by coordinating the RM Roadmap project, supported with €1.5 million in Horizon Europe funding. The three-year project aims to set a blueprint for the research management profession, targeting areas such as awareness of roles, capacity building and upskilling.

Claesen says that the attention the roadmap is receiving is an encouraging sign of momentum. But while growing appreciation for research management at the policy level is a major step forward, there is also much that university leaders can do on the ground to improve connections between their research management teams and the researchers they are trying to support. 

In many cases, researchers still lack awareness of what Janni Brødbæk, one of the RM Roadmap’s ambassadors, describes as what “research managers can do to heighten the quality of research, to make it easier for researchers and to ensure resources are spent wisely”.

As new opportunities open up for Europe’s researchers, the sector’s need for knowledgeable professional support is increasing as well. 

This article also appeared in Research Europe