Julian Huppert MP writes… EU budget boost secures UK’s position as world leader in science

Europe Day - European Union - Some rights reserved by Niccolò CarantiI heard some good news this week. It may not have grabbed the headlines, but the UK economy was given a colossal shot in the arm thanks to the European Union.

Lib Dem MEPs on Tuesday voted for an EU budget, which was overall lower – a 6.5 per cent cut – but crucially included a 30 per cent increase in funding for research and innovation. This is important funding, and a clear sign of what can be achieved to help our economic recovery when we are at the heart of the European Union, rather than dithering outside.

It was essential because it will ensure the UK maintains its role as a world leader in science while safeguarding jobs and providing work across the UK.

I’ve been highlighting for ages, inside and outside parliament, that the UK punches above its weight when it comes to scientific research. Impressively, we make up less than one per cent of the global population, but generate 10 per cent of the world’s clinical science and health research outputs.

In and around my Cambridge constituency a world-leading cluster of science and technology businesses generate annual revenue of £13 billion and provide 57,000 jobs. And there is no doubt a key support in this continued success story is our membership of the European Union and the international cooperation it brings.

More than £334 million has found its way from Brussels to universities, labs and research facilities across Cambridgeshire in the last five years. Funding has helped boost high-tech industries and fight killer diseases. Meanwhile, Cambridge has been involved in a £10 billion project to tackle Parkinson’s. It is a win for the area and the whole UK economy with every £1 of EU research spending generating an estimated £13 worth of industry added-value.

Lib Dems – as the patriotic party of ‘IN’ – have been strong in defending this crucial pillar in our economy. We pragmatically looked at the costs and benefits for the UK rather than blindly rejecting any budget for fear of a Eurosceptic backlash.

This week was an example of what can be achieved to benefit the UK when we are sat at the EU table, rather than ranting from the fringes. We fought for the more constrained EU budget to prioritise jobs and innovation and that is exactly what this deal will deliver.

* Julian Huppert was the Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge from 2010-15

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25 Comments

  • Hope this good news goes into the 2014 MEP campaign as it is a story which clearly examples the value of both being in the EU and having MEP’s that participate …

    The only catch I can see is whether we can get sufficient good news to counter the argument that the UK puts in more than it gets out and that if we weren’t in the EU the government would of made this investment … It is quite educational looking at the UK’s recent history (1950~1975) to see just how bad things were and that the country needed shaking out if it’s malaise.

  • “More than £334 million has found its way from Brussels to universities,….”
    No Julian, the money did NOT come from Brussels. Let’s be very clear how the process works. The money came from UK taxpayers, at a rate of about £50 million per day, and winged its merry way to Brussels. Then, MEP’s and their various unelected and bureaucratic hangers on, ‘skimmed’, a handsome portion off the top, (for themselves), and THEN, handed £344 million to UK universities. In short, it was UK taxpayers money, that went to universities.
    Imagine how much more the universities could have had, if it were not for all the EU gravy train money skimmers?

  • Eddie Sammon 22nd Nov '13 - 5:19pm

    The funding hasn’t come from the EU because we fund the EU, so it’s just come from ourselves. This is not hard to see and to make out that we should thank the EU that we funded it is just erroneous.

  • Stephen Hesketh 22nd Nov '13 - 5:23pm

    @Roland Sadly there is as much chance of our Arts-led media carrying this one as them giving a sensible presentation as to the threats of global warming, non-sensationalised health issues, deindustrialisation/manufacturing etc. Just don’t touch the London arts budget. Dejected of the Royal Society of Chemistry! I do however fully support what you say about the Liberal Democrats using it next year’s Euro-elections. Keep up the good work Julian!

  • Richard Dean 22nd Nov '13 - 6:48pm

    @Eddie Sammon.

    This is called “spin”. It’s amazing what spin can do! Connect any dot with any other dot, or even comma, semi-colon, or smudge! Of course we’d be providing this funding directly if we weren’t in the EU.

    Perhaps a more important factor is that the EU is a huge market for the commercial products that come from scientific advances, so it helps to have access to the market, and to have a type of commitment from the EU, in the form of the money that we give it so that they can give it to us.

    It also helps that, through the EU, we participate in agreements that provide us with access to the rest of the world.. We would have less opportunities outside of the EU, and any separate trade agreements we might make would be less respected so less secure. We would probably do even better if we were part of the Euro.

  • Eddie Sammon 22nd Nov '13 - 9:29pm

    Hi Richard, I think the article and the actions it explains are actually an improvement on a lot of the recent stuff I’ve been reading from the Lib Dems on the EU (i.e. sounding like fully paid employees of the EU). I don’t think there is a lot of spin in it, just a bit, and as most people know I’m not comfortable with this party of IN stuff. I don’t think it’s fair to exclude half of the population from the party immediately by picking sides on a controversial topic that doesn’t put the party’s core values at stake. People might say “internationalism”, but it’s not centrist so just undermines the present strategy.

  • @Eddie “The funding hasn’t come from the EU because we fund the EU, so it’s just come from ourselves.”

    But as I alluded to, it is probably a good thing that this strategic investment has come via the EU. Could the current UK government have allocated £334m to research with little comment on whether public funds should be spent on something as intangible as scientific research? Also could a UK government initiative have achieved both a high level of pan-EU collaboration and avoidance of high-levels of duplication in research activity across the EU?

    In some ways, having monies channelled via the EU has forced the UK government to stand up and speak out for what the UK is good at, rather than having a constant stream of politicians dithering over whether it is worth investing in UK scientific research when it would be cheaper to just buy in the finished products – thereby sending out the message that the UK isn’t serious about scientific research… remember the UK brain drain – a problem in the 70’s and 80’s, which required some serious money to be spent to encourage top UK researchers and their teams typically working in the USA to return to UK universities …

    @Stephen – I appreciate your sentiments, but I try and live in hope…

  • ResearchLibDem 23rd Nov '13 - 7:24am

    Everyone seems to be missing the point that modern day scientific research is not something which respects national borders and that it involves collaboration with other universities, academics and companies in different countries. As you will see in the link below, the project in Cambridge on Parkinson’s involves other institutions in Germany, France, Sweden and Austria. By pooling money at a European level to fund pan-European research, we achieve serious economies of scale above and beyond 28 different research pots being spent exclusively at national level. So there is a clear value in this funding coming from the EU.

    http://cordis.europa.eu/projects/index.cfm?fuseaction=app.details&TXT=%22university+of+cambridge%22&FRM=1&STP=10&SIC=&PGA=FP7-HEALTH%2CFP7&CCY=UKCOUNTRY&PCY=&SRC=&LNG=en&REF=94248

    Given the quality of our universities, it is no great surprise that the UK benefits disproportionately from this EU funding. Cambridge participates in the most EU funded projects out of any university in Europe and four more of the top ten are British universities – page 13: http://ec.europa.eu/research/evaluations/pdf/archive/fp7_monitoring_reports/6th_fp7_monitoring_report.pdf

  • Spin to cover up this monumental failure that requires apologies and resignations at the highest level.
    http://www.theguardian.com/education/2013/nov/22/poorest-students-face-350m-cuts

  • EU science funding arrangements are so baroque that they make the badly designed UK system look like a model of sanity. The EU funding bodies actually run seminars on how to apply for EU funding! They recommend that you include funding for an administrator because of the sheer amount of busywork that the bookkeeping requirements of the funding generate. This is madness.

    I’m huge fan of the EU but to suggest that EU science funding is a sensible reason to stay in is rather silly.

  • jedibeeftrix 23rd Nov '13 - 9:22am

    @ Roland – “But as I alluded to, it is probably a good thing that this strategic investment has come via the EU. Could the current UK government have allocated £334m to research with little comment on whether public funds should be spent on something as intangible as scientific research?”

    How on earth is it a good thing that we might willfully choose to degrade the quality of our democracy, in the matter of oversight, because you think the public is too stupid to recognise the worth of acting in the long term national interest?

    How do you think that will sell in 2015, if the public comes to think the party supports the EU as a mechanism for bypassing their will… oh, wait!

  • Eddie Sammon 23rd Nov '13 - 9:28am

    Roland, the collaborative research powers of the EU sounds interesting, but I think it is actually a good thing that £334 million couldn’t have been spent by the treasury without further questions.

    I’m a believer in scientific research, I know how important innovation is to the economy and public services, I just get paranoid that it relies too heavily on grants when if somebody has a good project then I don’t see why they shouldn’t get private funding for it (equity or debt).

  • Richard Dean 23rd Nov '13 - 9:59am

    The UK has several research councils, which acquire and distribute funds for research. I think there are seven. The 2012/13 budget for the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council was £794 million.

    http://www.epsrc.ac.uk/about/plans/deliveryplan/Pages/next.aspx
    http://www.rcuk.ac.uk/Pages/Home.aspx

    Industry funds research too. The idea that UK politicians “dither” about scientific research is just nonsense. And Julian is totally out of touch if he is suggesting that £334 million in five years is a huge part of the UK’s annual research budget.

  • daft ha'p'orth 23rd Nov '13 - 11:27am

    @Eddie Sammon
    Firstly: Not all ‘projects’ are directly marketable, nor should all marketable projects be marketed.

    Secondly, good scientists are not typically good entrepreneurs, and thank goodness for that because great entrepreneurs typically exhibit a fluid relationship with fact that I would hate to see duplicated in research (although I see it creeping in; the current system rewards it).

    Consider Autonomy, sold to HP, who then had to write off most of the value of it the following year. The aim of the entrepreneur is essentially to build something you can dye a convincing colour and sell to some sucker before they think to check the horse’s dental records. This does not lead to open or honest academic communications. It adds nothing to our knowledge of the domain. Good research can be done by commercially funded groups: the point is that you would be ill-advised to assume that commercial funders will cover all the bases and be so kind as to publish the results, because they will not, cannot and from the perspective of commercial interests they should not. Now one could ask whether it matters that the outcomes of research are not shared unless it is commercially advantageous to do so. One could also ask whether we even need to do any research that doesn’t directly lead to a product. My personal response would be ‘Yes, we do. Yes, it matters.’

    My view on this is you need academic research to keep the commercial lot semi-honest (although even this doesn’t always work: cf. Bandler & Grinder/NLP, several claims of which have been discredited but which is still taught in management classes, including in university…) and you need to connect with commercial organisations to keep academia from disappearing up its own intellectual backside. A balanced ecosystem of people with commercial nous and mouthy smartass gobshites. That’s not to say that we couldn’t do more to ensure that projects which are plausibly early-stage commercial projects receive the right type of funding, or to involve commercial elements in fundamental research, but you do want to keep that balance.

  • Eddie Sammon 23rd Nov '13 - 12:00pm

    daft ha’p’orth, I disagree with the anti business sentiments you have posted, but I agree that we should have a balance between public and private funded research.

    If somebody asked me for a government grant my first questions would be “have you tried private funding or underwriting rather than taxpayer funding or underwriting? Or could you tell me why this isn’t suitable?”. However, I don’t see these questions being asked.

  • Richard Dean 23rd Nov '13 - 12:12pm

    @Eddie Sammon
    Those are amongst the questions that the research councils ask, at least the EPSRC do. They prefer to provide funds to projects that already have some promised industrial funding – the industry interest gives the project credibility, and allows the research council to focus on providing support where individual companies cannot, such as in the development of experimental apparatus that will bring value long after the first project on which it is used is done.

  • daft ha'p'orth 23rd Nov '13 - 12:32pm

    @Eddie Sammon
    I’m not anti business, but I am not idealistic about the motivations of either sector. I think it helps to be as honest as possible about the capabilities, strengths and weaknesses of both models.

    Such questions are being asked and PIs will be familiar with them. However, they are often asked and answered insincerely, as bureaucratic processes rather than genuine attempts to understand or correctly site projects. There is too little cooperation between funders, private and public, and there is a tendency to clannishness. There have been and should be genuine efforts to improve this – efforts that take into account the varying skillsets of the different participants in the process, not the uninspired and faddish ‘Let’s do academic Dragons Den for aspiring PIs!’ stuff. There is a lot wrong with the way research funding is handed out, in my view, including a lack of forward planning (the newly released House of Lords report on scientific infrastructure gives some examples of this).

    But just cutting budgets and claiming that hey, it’s safe to leave innovation to the private sector? That won’t help anyone.

  • Eddie Sammon 23rd Nov '13 - 12:52pm

    Richard, research councils may ask these questions, but I don’t see enough Liberal Democrats asking them, mainly just a cheerleading for spending public money.

    I’ve opened a can of worms here, so to be concise: my attitude is that EU funding isn’t very impressive given we are net contributors and I am worried about the lack of concern about where all this money is coming from.

  • Richard Dean 23rd Nov '13 - 12:55pm

    This does not look like a can of worms to me. It’s something the UK does right.

  • Eddie Sammon 23rd Nov '13 - 12:56pm

    Daft ha’p’porth, good points. I still slightly disagree, but good points.

  • Eddie Sammon 23rd Nov '13 - 1:13pm

    Guys, if there is one thing I don’t want to be it is an extremist, so I accept public funding for science is good, but my point is that we never seem to hear any calls from Liberal Democrats for cuts in “trendy budgets”, such as science. The cheerleading all seems to be one way and I think we need some more balance here.

    The other point is that I flirt with the idea of getting rid of all non-essential public funding entirely and refocusing that area of spending on people in need and the deficit. So if that idea comes out from time to time it is not because I want to get rid of public spending, it is just that I want it to be better focused.

    Thanks Julian for the article!

  • ResearchLibDem 23rd Nov ’13 – 7:24am – thanks for an informed viewpoint on how international research works and how useful this is. Sounds good to me.

  • @ResearchLibDem – good contribution

    @Richard – Yes the UK government has in the past dithered over funding research.

    Having founded a company in the 80’s which received venture capital, UK government funding and EU (RACE 1) funding, the most problematic funder was the UK government…

    The EU funding as I alluded to and ResearchLibDem explicitly stated, involved pan-EU collaboration, wich whilst it made it a bit of a pain putting a consortium together and bidding for funding, it did mean that we built research and business relationships across Europe that facilitated subsequent commercial exploitation. My company in several of the collaborations being the commercial partner in the research. So I have good feelings towards EU funding.

    @jedibeeftrix – I have faith in the public, but little faith in the media and the politicians in recognising and acting in the long-term national interest… In some ways strategic investment, seems to be a natural fit with the role of the EU and hence the division of powers between Westminster MPs and MEPs. As for degrading the quality of our democracy, I suspect it recognises the world we are now living in. No the real problem with the EU is getting rid of the unelected Commission.

  • Peter Watson 23rd Nov '13 - 9:50pm

    @Roland “Could the current UK government have allocated £334m to research with little comment on whether public funds should be spent on something as intangible as scientific research?”
    A report in the Guardian (http://www.theguardian.com/education/2013/nov/22/poorest-students-face-350m-cuts) suggests not: “In an attempt to save a further £215m over two years, the ringfenced science budget, which has already been frozen in real terms, is also expected to be cut by 2%.”

  • Peter Watson 27th Nov '13 - 2:43pm

    Whilst news that the EU values investment in science, I am less confident about our coalition government.
    The threatened cut to investment in science research (and student grants) rumbles on: http://www.theguardian.com/science/2013/nov/27/brian-cox-science-funding-grants-nonsensical
    Meanwhile, creating the scientists and engineers of the future is jeopardised by the apparent failure of the government’s new scheme to recruit enough trainee teachers for maths and physics (and modern foreign languages) (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-25104936), with the risk that universities might not be able to take up the slack in future (http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/news/open-university-to-shut-outstanding-pgce-course/2009179.article).

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