As the European Commission released its new proposal for the next seven-year budget of the European Union, the academic community nourished hope that, in the few past months, it had become clear to policymakers just how fundamental adequate investment in research, innovation and education is to supporting societal and economic recovery.
The European Commission and many governments across Europe certainly acknowledged this and promoted a science-based recovery. Indeed, the need for excellent research, strong innovation ecosystems and inclusive and sustainable higher education has never been greater, as an unprecedented economic recession looms over Europe.
The announcement made on Wednesday, 27 May recognises the need to invest in these areas to support society and the economy. The Commission has proposed increasing both the Horizon Europe and Erasmus+ programmes, which are core instruments for universities to contribute to the effort.
The increases, nevertheless, fall short of expectations and more importantly, fall short of societies’ needs. Compared to the figures from February, an additional 13.5bn will be channelled to research and innovation through Horizon Europe, via the temporary recovery scheme labelled “Next Generation EU”. This remains below the needs expressed before the Covid-19 crisis. EUA has backed the European Parliament in its bid to invest 120bn into the programme to start addressing the known shortcomings of the programme and the greater needs in a context of the green transition.
Erasmus+ funding increases compared to the February proposal (+3.4bn, reaching 24.6bn), but stagnates below the European Commission’s original plans and far below the European Parliament’s proposal. With great ambitions added to the new programme, including the European Universities Initiative, the reinforcement of mobility, and enhanced social inclusion, this increase however is not enough.
The financial structure proposed today is unlike any previous seven-year budget, given the addition of a large, temporary recovery fund combining grant and loan mechanisms. This includes significant support to various parts of the economy. Both research and education are crucial elements in this context. What has been essential in combatting the pandemic is knowledge and skills, the ability to analyse and act, connect and collaborate, relate and reorganise society. Universities have been a major contributor on all fronts and are looking to continue serving society by supporting long-term recovery. This includes strong engagement of the sector in the green and digital transitions.
The Commission’s proposal recognises that stronger investment in these areas is of strategic importance and will boost the EU’s resilience. EUA therefore calls on member states to be ambitious and support long-term recovery through a higher commitment to research, innovation and education.