What will the successor framework programme to Horizon 2020 look like?

What will the successor framework programme to Horizon 2020 look like?

As the final three year work programmes for Horizon 2020 have been published (excluding an update on the work programmes in 2019 for the final year of calls), all attention in Brussels has turned towards what will follow on from Horizon 2020, the Ninth Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, colloquially referred to as FP9, although I am certain that it will follow the same trend as the current FP and be given a snazzy name. Officially the European Commission will hold a consultation on FP9 in January 2018, however the structure of FP9 has already been set in place from the European Commission previous consultation on the mid-term evaluation of Horizon 2020, and the independent High Level Group’s report on maximising the impact of EU Research and Innovation Programmes led by Pascal Lamy, called “Lab Fab App”.

Excellence is best

What does the structure of FP9 look like so far? Well luckily for research-intensive universities (such as the White Rose Universities), the European Commission has actually been listening and so excellence will again play a key role in FP9. We understand that there will be an ‘Excellence’ part to FP9, where the distribution of research funding is based on the quality of the proposal without geographic considerations or other criteria involved and which is likely to include the European Research Council (ERC), Marie-Sklodowska Curie Actions (MSCA) and the Research Infrastructures (RI), much like in Horizon 2020, although the devil is in the detail as to how much of FP9 budget will be allocated to these ‘bottom-up’ schemes.

According to the most recent figures released in November 2017 by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) on the UK’s participation in Horizon 2020 up to September 2017, since the beginning of Horizon 2020, UK universities have had 3,550 participants in the four Excellent Science funding programmes. In total this has resulted in €1,967 million worth of funding to UK Universities, which as a share of EC total funding is 19.9%.

The most recent figures also show that Leeds, Sheffield and York University are averaging over 40% for successful applications from programmes within the excellence pillar of Horizon 2020.

The interim evaluation of Horizon 2020 highlights how the ERC has become a global beacon of scientific excellence and provides those that do the science of the future with the skills and competences that Europe needs to stay at the forefront of development.

The Lab Fab App report, which reviewed the future of EU funding programmes, argues that all proposals across FP9 ‘should be evaluated on the basis of excellence’. However, it also argues that excellence should be assessed on the ‘basis of the pillar’s objectives, such as the potential for breakthrough innovation in the second pillar or the societal relevance in the third.

Disruptive Innovation

The second part of FP9 will be the much anticipated European Innovation Council (EIC). In July 2016, the European Commission held a workshop with key stakeholders to discuss ideas for the EIC. They decided that the main objective of the EIC should be to encourage disruptive innovation in Europe, as well as simplify EU funding streams. The spring consultation formed the basis of an EIC pilot, which essentially acts as a Horizon 2020 dry-run for the fully-fledged EIC in FP9.

The existing structure of the EIC pilot gives us a vague idea of what the EIC might look like in FP9 (emphasis remains on the word vague). Currently, the €2.7bn budget for the EIC-pilot is split unequally between four key innovation support schemes; €1.6bn on the SME instrument, €300m on Fast Track to Innovation (FTI), €705m on Future and Emerging Technologies (FET), and €40m between six EIC Horizon Prizes. A precise breakdown can be found in the EIC pilot Work-Programme 2018-20.

Currently, opportunities for higher education institutions to benefit from EIC funding exist in a limited capacity. The SME Instrument is focused on “close-to-market” high TRL projects submitted by SMEs or consortia of SMEs and the FTI is also industry-focused, with participation by private organisations mandatory for grants to succeed. Higher education institutions are likely to profit more from the FET and Horizon Prize support schemes which focus more on excellence and early stage science. The FET, in particular, aims to “mobilise Europe’s most creative and forward thinking researchers from all disciplines” .

Flying to the moon and back

The third part of FP9 will likely cover the ‘global challenges’, much like the societal challenges of Horizon 2020 and the cooperation programme of FP7. However the key difference in FP9 will be the focus towards ‘mission oriented challenges’ (MOCs), a idea of the Research and Innovation Commissioner, Carlos Moedas, who wants the MOCs to replicate the success of the Apollo missions in getting a man to the moon and back. Consultations between the European Commission and stakeholders are set to begin in January 2018, however both parties have already began to stake out their positions. MOCs (or ‘moonshots)’ are supposed to bridge the gap between lower and higher TRL research and will be formed of consortias of academics, SMEs and other stakeholders. They will be designed to tackle what are perceived as key challenges to Europe and the world, with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) being used as a reference point, and focussing on impact within a specific time-frame.

There is currently a debate about how many Missions there will be, however the consensus in DG R&I is that fewer is better, with somewhere between 3 – 6 being the most likely. Within these, there will be an array of more specific and actionable problems. Examples of what the Missions will be have been along the lines of: ‘achieving a plastic free Europe by 2030’; ‘understanding and enhancing the brain by 2030’; ‘producing steel with zero carbon in Europe by 2030’, and; ‘making 3 out of 4 patients survive cancer by 2034’. It has been suggested that the Missions will be a means of engaging citizens, by inviting their opinions on what issues should be focussed on.This attitude is also reflected by the desire to have Social Sciences and Humanities (SSH) lead and contribute heavily to the direction of these projects.

From within these broad, top down calls, it is expected that stakeholders will propose their own solutions. Notably, MOCs are likely to have sunset clauses which will enable the cessation of funds.

Final words

The European Commission proposal for FP9 is likely to be published in June 2018, so we won’t get any official information on FP9 for some time, however the discussions and debates will continue over the next few months. The elephant in the room is whether the UK will have access to FP9 and this is still unknown at this stage, however following the joint report between the UK Government and the negotiators of the European Union where stage one of negotiations were concluded, we’re in a more optimistic mood that the UK will be able to participate in future framework programmes, provided of course that the second stage of negotiations are concluded in time.


Further reading: 

French preliminary position paper on FP9: Click Here

LAB – Fab – App Report: Click Here

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