recent weeks, this bilateral engagement has taken us to a selection of capital
cities in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) as part of a campaign that has been
organised and supported by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Science and
Innovation Network (SIN). The SIN operates globally, with 110 officers in over
40 countries, and has recently significantly expanded its presence in Europe.
mark this expansion and build bridges with parts of the continent with whom our
research and innovation links are less well developed than with Western
European counterparts, SIN officers organised roundtables with higher
education, science and innovation stakeholders in Bratislava (Slovakia),
Budapest (Hungary), Prague (Czech Republic), Sofia (Bulgaria), and Zagreb
is substantial variation in the level of investment and performance of research
and innovation systems in CEE. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the Czech
Republic actually invests a higher share of GDP in research and development
than the UK (1.70% compared with 1.67%), whereas Slovakia lags behind on 0.79%.
What is common across all five countries that we have visited or will visit is
that collaborating with UK researchers dramatically increases the bibliometric impact
of their publication, as shown by Scival figures for 2013-17 on field-weighted
citation impact (FWCI).
are several key messages that we have been keen to push at these events. The
first is common to all our European engagement, namely that we remain 100%
committed to our research collaboration and student exchange links with
European partners, and that we would like to continue to strengthen these bonds
through continued UK participation in EU higher education and research
programmes. We have also seized every opportunity to flag the steps taken
by the UK Government to underwrite UK participation in EU programmes in order to
reassure EU counterparts that they should continue to develop joint proposals
with UK peers.
second message relates specifically to the design of the Framework Programmes. We
are aware that many in Central and Eastern Europe would like to see steps taken
to ensure a more equal distribution of EU research funding across the bloc. On
this front, our position is clear; we think it’s vital that Horizon Europe
remains first and foremost a programme driven by identifying and funding
excellent research ideas. We are keen to do what we can to support spreading
excellence, for example by facilitating the exchange of UK expertise in
university research management. We even accept that there is a place for a
small share of the budget to be used to help build centres of excellence in
widening participation countries through so-called ‘Widening
However, we are unequivocal that geography has no role to play in the evaluation
criteria for Horizon Europe, as we have clear in our response to
the Horizon Europe proposal.
we want to explore how we can help share information with UK university
researchers about the opportunities that exist for collaboration with partners
in Central and Eastern Europe. Many of these countries have invested heavily in
world-class research infrastructures through a combination of national funding
and EU structural funds. For instance, the ELI Beamlines infrastructure has recently opened in the Czech Republic, the
most intense laser facility in the world to date. We want to explore whether
there is more that we could do, for instance through our Europe Network or
International Research Development Network, to help enhance the understanding
of these research systems in the UK.
tone of these meetings has been constructive, leading to productive discussions
about how we can intensify the scale and scope of research collaboration
through both bottom-up initiatives and participation in the EU Framework
Programmes. CEE stakeholders have echoed the same message that has been
communicated via joint statements with Austrian and German rectors’
conference in recent weeks; namely, that European collaboration in science and
research is a win-win, and that we must not let the current political
uncertainty undermine our valuable collaborative links.