If rumours of a Ministerial trip to Brussels in the days ahead to ratify an agreement on Horizon Europe are true, then we might finally be seeing the beginnings of a fresh relationship between the UK and the EU.

The acrimonious Brexit negotiations strained relations with the EU. But we now seem to be entering a period when bridges can be re-built. Research is a good place to start.

Many universities across Scotland and the UK, including my own, have worked hard to nurture and grow our European links post-Brexit, the uncertainty around Horizon Europe has certainly presented some challenges. But the news of a potential deal on Horizon association is very welcome and signals the direction this UK Government is taking our relationship with the EU.

Indeed, since the Windsor Framework was agreed back in March, discussions on Horizon Europe have moved to a much more positive footing. The sector has been eagerly anticipating the UK’s association to Horizon Europe and we have been urging an acceleration of talks with the EU.

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Universities like ours have continued to encourage researchers to apply for European research funding calls, with hopes of swift accession to the scheme. And while the UK Government’s own Horizon Europe Guarantee has afforded some protection of funding for UK researchers (to the tune of £1 billion since November 2021), this had only been extended to the end of September 2023.

The greatest challenge for institutions has been navigating this uncertainty. We have had to reassure European partners that joint projects will be supported for the duration of their lifecycles. We also lost some European Research Council (ERC) grant-holders who preferred to move their grants to EU-based universities.

In Glasgow, we responded strongly. We committed to underwrite any shortfall and we strengthened our own partnerships, solidifying our membership of two major European networks.

Thanks to these networks, two weeks ago the University of Glasgow joined partners from across Africa and Europe in the formation of vital new Clusters of Research Excellence, established by the African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA) and The Guild of European Research-Intensive Universities (The Guild).

These partnerships aim to transform collaborative research across our two continents and will help bring about positive, long-lasting change to common societal challenges. Glasgow will co-lead two Clusters (Advanced Infectious Diseases and Non-Communicable Diseases and Multimorbidity) and will partner on three more (Nature-based Solutions for Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation, Food Environment Actions for the Promotion of Health, and Genomics for Health in Africa).

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We know that excellent research and scientific breakthroughs in the 21st century necessitate collaboration. The Horizon Europe Scheme has no close competitors as a transnational funding arrangement.

With a budget of €95.5 billion distributed over seven years, it is the latest in a series of such programmes. It has its roots in the 1980s when the EU was still known as the European Community. Funding instruments were initially established to foster research within the European area around three core pillars: integrating research on the continent to increase competitiveness in basic science and applied research; harnessing a network of excellence in research; and using this new collaborative network to address the needs of society.


While today Horizon Europe is focused on five key missions (adapting to climate change, beating cancer, restoring oceans and waters, improving soil health and creating climate neutral/smart cities), it is these original pillars which have carried through from the 1980s which make the scheme such a successful and worthwhile endeavour.

Participating in Horizon Europe will also allow us, in part, to influence its successor, the 10th Framework Programme in Research and Innovation. Framework 10, which will start in 2028, must be equally strategic and focused on excellence, and should prioritise the basic and fundamental research which underpins the drive to innovation.

Scotland has always been an active partner in these European research programmes and Scottish organisations secured a total of €852.6 million of the previous framework programme (Horizon 2020) budget up to 2021.

At the University of Glasgow, our academics have been successful in large EU grant capture, for example in the Arts, professor Mona Simion leads the KnowledgeLab funded by €1.5M from the ERC which looks at how knowledge and misinformation is shared and created.

Or take professor Manuel Salmeron-Sanchez, head of our James Watt School of Engineering, who has led a number of multi-million ERC-funded initiatives and is currently the coordinator of HealiKick, a Horizon 2020 grant that brings together partners from across Europe, including the Sir Bobby Charlton Foundation, to develop bone regeneration technologies.

Scotland is fortunate to have a number of the world’s top 100 universities. We’re at the cutting edge of technologies like quantum and AI, and we’re home to globally-competitive clusters in life sciences and creative economies which have high potential for growth and which can be deployed to address the stubborn socioeconomic and health challenges we face. As a sector we are hugely collaborative, between ourselves and across the UK and internationally, so exclusion from Horizon Europe only works to our detriment.

If we are serious about tackling global challenges like the climate emergency, then we need schemes like Horizon Europe – not only for funding, but for the opportunities for collaboration and knowledge exchange across borders.

As a nation we have committed to addressing the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and as the First Minister set out during his own recent trip to Brussels, the EU is ‘a like-minded neighbour’. It shares our ambitions for sustainable development, inclusive growth and international cooperation.

Our university was recently ranked 13th in the world by Times Higher Education for overall impact on the UN SDGs. We want to go further, and we want our sector and Scotland to push further towards achieving each of the SDGs. But we can’t do this alone – we need the support and backing of Horizon Europe. With Horizon association we can start afresh with the EU, and I sincerely hope we’ll see this come to fruition in the days ahead.

Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli is Principal and Vice-Chancellor, University of Glasgow