Push to join $161bn EU research fund, THE AUSTRALIAN
Exclusive by Tim Dodd – Higher Education Editor
9 October 2019
Universities and business are pushing for Australia to join the world’s biggest research and innovation fund, the planned €100bn ($161bn) Horizon Europe initiative run by the European Union that will operate for seven years from 2021.
The Go8 universities and the European Australian Business Council have jointly proposed to Industry, Science and Technology Minister Karen Andrews that Australia should seek “associate country” status with the fund, with the aim of cementing research links with the EU and opening up opportunities for collaboration with European industry and universities.
The EU has indicated it will consider applications for associate status from countries outside the EU that are strong in research, and is expected to welcome a formal submission from Australia.
The Go8, which represents Australia’s research-intensive universities, has told the federal government the prospect of becoming an associate of the fund is a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to significantly boost existing engagement between Australian and European parties including researchers — in universities, government and other institutions — as well as industry”.
Former federal Labor leader Simon Crean, who has also held trade, education and science portfolios in government, is backing the push in his role as a deputy chairman of the EABC.
Mr Crean said on Tuesday that in talks with EU officials about Horizon Europe he was struck by the degree to which they wanted to encourage associate membership. “They were grappling with the same issues we do,” he said. “We have good basic research, we can get start-ups, but how do you get to scale up?”
Mr Crean also pointed to this week’s announcement from French shipbuilder Naval Group, which will build Australia’s 12 new submarines, that it will create a research hub in Australia involving universities and the CSIRO. “That’s the sort of thing we should encourage and welcome,” he said.
If Australia becomes an associate country of Horizon Europe, Australian universities will be able to apply, in their own right, for research support from the fund, opening up new opportunities for research collaboration with European universities and business.
It is also likely that UK universities, which will lose direct access to the fund if Brexit goes ahead, will have a strong incentive to partner with Australian institutions to get access to Horizon Europe.
The Australian interest in Horizon Europe comes as concern grows that Australia’s high-level research, particularly in the physical sciences, is highly reliant on collaborative research with China, which has risen sharply in the past two decades, even as security concerns grow.
“In certain subject areas, Australia’s collaboration with China has become vital to knowledge creation,” a report from the UTS Australia-China Relations Institute said in July this year.
In a submission to Europe’s commissioner for research, science and innovation sent on October 4, the Go8 and the EABC argued for deeper collaboration with European researchers saying: “There is a greater imperative now, arising from geopolitical, trade or security reasons, for international research links to be strengthened between trusted parties with significant benefit arising from strengthened relations.”
The next step towards Australia becoming a Horizon Europe associate country lies with the federal government as the issue is a matter for diplomatic negotiations between Australia and the EU. The key will be how much Australia will be expected to contribute to the fund in order to have associate status. Sources say it is not expected to be a large amount, at least initially, with some balance existing between what Australia contributes and what it withdraws.
If Australia joins, all Australian universities would be eligible to apply for funding, not just Go8 institutions.
Australian universities have already benefited from EU funding through the current Horizon 2020 research and innovation fund that will end next year to be replaced by Horizon Europe.