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Use Horizon 2020 to boost Welsh research, says committee

Horizon 2020, the EU’s next research and innovation funding programme, should act as the catalyst for building critical mass for research and innovation in Wales, the Welsh Government’s Enterprise and Business Committee has said.

Horizon 2020 is the follow-up to the Framework 7 programme (FP7), and will run from 2014 to 2020. The official proposal suggests it would spend about €80 billion (£62bn) during that period.

The committee says that Wales needs to tackle its current “under performing” in securing EU research funding. It quotes numbers showing that under the 2007-2013 FP7 Wales secured €84m (£66m) of funding, which is only 2.26 per cent of the total UK share. Scotland secured 9.4 per cent of funding.

The report suggests that the Welsh higher education sector should therefore provide information on the levels of participation in the 2013 call under FP7 to assess whether current support for drafting and submitting funding bids is making any difference.

Meanwhile, the Welsh Government should consider developing a so-called CoFund Initiative under Horizon 2020, which covers regional and national fellowship programmes for research career development.

The country should also make sure it capitalises on “achieving synergies” between the Horizon 2020 and EU structural funds. The latter, it recommends, could be used to support projects that fail to secure Horizon 2020 funding; to finance commercialisation of research; and for post-graduate programmes.

In addition, the government has to address the European Commission proposal that regions will have to develop “smart specialisation strategies” to access structural funds in the future. The report recommends that the government “drive forward a smart specialisation strategy, in consultation with key stakeholders, which aims to create a real culture of innovation throughout academia and industry in Wales”.

The committee also recommends that the government sets out its position on the Horizon 2020 proposal.

However, it says it would like to see an amendment to the proposal to maintain the 2014 budget for the Marie Curie Actions programme for researcher exchange. It argues that Welsh universities are particularly strong in securing funding through this programme, with 15 per cent of the FP7 funding secured by Welsh organisations coming from the Marie Cure Actions. This, it adds, is higher than the EU average.

“We see [the Horizon 2020 proposals] presenting a significant challenge and important opportunity for increasing the competitiveness of the higher education sector in Wales, and for strengthening engagement between higher education and business, both at home and abroad,” said Nick Ramsay, chairman of the committee, in a statement.

“We recognise that Wales’s achievements in attracting research funding as a whole will not be transformed instantly, but we hope that Horizon 2020 will be a catalyst for Welsh Government, higher education and business to build together the critical mass for research and innovation to help transform the Welsh economy in the future,” he said.