Government sets out prospectus programme – titled ‘Pioneer’ – to protect and support UK research and innovation sector, should it be required.

Pioneer prospectus announced: alternative to Horizon Europe
  • Plan provides confidence and certainty to UK researchers, universities and businesses and will give them an opportunity to input
  • whilst the UK hopes negotiations on Horizon Europe will be successful, and that is our preference, it must be on the basis of fair and appropriate terms
  • if we are not able to secure association on fair and appropriate terms, we will implement Pioneer – our bold, ambitious alternative
  • ongoing conversations with researchers and businesses to ensure Pioneer would build on UK strengths and develop new capabilities

The blueprint for Pioneer – a long-term, bold prospectus programme to support research and innovation in the UK should association to the Horizon Europe scheme not prove possible – has been unveiled today (Thursday 6 April).

The Pioneer prospectus sets out the proposals that would inform the scheme, which is being developed with input from researchers, and businesses across the UK.

We are discussing association to Horizon Europe with the EU, and hope our negotiations will be successful. That is our preference. But association would need to be on the basis of a good deal for the UK’s researchers, businesses and taxpayers. If we are not able to secure association on fair and appropriate terms, we will implement Pioneer – our bold, ambitious alternative.

Earlier this week Science and Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan held an introductory meeting with the EU Commissioner, Mariya Gabriel, to discuss research collaboration including the UK’s expectations around association to Horizon Europe. While those discussions continue, initial details on Pioneer are being published now to give researchers and businesses the opportunity to give their input, and provide long-term certainty if we are unable to reach the right terms through discussions with the EU.

Science and Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan said:

We are engaging with the EU over Horizon Europe and I got the ball rolling this week with a meeting with Commissioner Gabriel in Brussels. We hope our negotiations will be successful, and that is our preference, but it must be on the right terms.

We must ensure we have an ambitious alternative ready to go should we need it and that our businesses and researchers have fed into it. Our top priority is supporting them to ensure their ground-breaking work can continue no matter what. That is why I am starting this conversation today about how we will keep backing them, in any scenario so our sector has certainty as well as say.

Should it be required, the alternative Pioneer programme would focus on 4 main themes to complement our existing R&D investments:

  • Talent
  • End to End Innovation
  • Global Collaboration
  • Investments in the R&D system

The government is bringing forward this detail, now, so that stakeholders from right across the UK’s research and innovation sectors can play an active role in building the plan.

The long-term programme would be established as quickly as possible if needed, and the government would undertake intensive engagement with researchers and businesses to determine priorities for a programme that would help build on UK strengths and develop new capabilities, while distributing resource and support for the sector across the country, in line with the Levelling Up agenda. 

This comes as The Horizon Europe Guarantee fund has reached an important milestone with more than £1 billion now awarded to UK-based researchers and innovators, enabling them to participate in Horizon Europe projects while the UK’s association to the flagship EU funding programme is delayed.

The guarantee scheme, delivered by UKRI, supports researchers and innovators who have been successful in Horizon Europe competitions but cannot receive EU funding due to the delays to the UK’s association to the programme. With Guarantee funding they can continue their important work in research and innovation.

Support for the Pioneer prospectus

Dr Diana Beech, Chief Executive Officer, London Higher said:

While association to Horizon Europe remains a priority for UK science, we welcome the publication of the government’s ambitious alternative plan, Pioneer. This prospectus contains a range of new, innovative proposals which could propel the UK’s science and technology superpower ambitions forward irrespective of the outcome of negotiations. International collaboration is vital to the future success of UK R&D, and we welcome the government’s detailed thinking on how this can be enhanced through the UK’s multidisciplinary strengths.

As representatives of the largest concentration of universities and research-performing organisations of any UK region, we hope that this alternative plan will continue to provide our world-class universities and researchers with the funding, certainty and stability needed to continue powering the engine of UK innovation and build connectivity across the regions. We will work with our membership to discuss the benefits of this alternative, and openly invite the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology to work with London’s universities to build on the full diversity of our nation’s R&D capabilities.

Professor Paul Boyle, chair of the Universities UK Research & Innovation Policy Network and Vice-Chancellor at the University of Swansea said:

We are pleased to see that, with publication of the Pioneer prospectus today, the government has again reiterated its ambition to complete association to Horizon Europe. The recent engagements between Secretary of State Michelle Donelan and the EU ambassador last month, and this week’s meetings in Brussels, demonstrate that this is being treated seriously by both parties.

Agreement is clearly needed on an appropriate cost for the UK’s association given the years that have been missed. And while we remain hopeful that negotiations can proceed swiftly to deliver a positive outcome, it is entirely appropriate that the UK has an alternative plan that can be activated should our association prove impossible to agree in a reasonable timeframe. As such, we are pleased to see that proposals have now been published and that government is inviting feedback.

Universities UK has been consulted on the development of the Pioneer package, and we will continue to engage constructively in the coming months. Indeed, there are aspects of the package that we would urge the government to consider implementing in addition to the UK’s association to Horizon Europe, as they would further bolster our ability to work globally and to achieve our collective research and innovation ambitions.

Notes to editors

The Levelling Up R&D mission is critical to securing the future scientific and economic prosperity of the regions of the UK, and making our overall R&D offer stronger as a result.

Pioneer would receive the same amount of funding as the UK would have paid to associate to Horizon had we associated from 2021 to 2027. This means the UK would invest around £14.6 billion in Pioneer to the end of 2027 to 2028, including the support we are already providing to the sector via the Horizon Guarantee.

Based on the arrangement within the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) we would expect to make a contribution to Horizon that exceeds receipts to UK entities. Under Pioneer, all our funding would go to UK scientists and innovators. Our receipts from Horizon would be uncertain as they depend on the performance of UK participants in competitive processes. Over the last Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) (2014 to 2020), the UK’s receipts from Horizon 2020 fluctuated by 40% between different years of the programme. But if you simply took the average receipts over that period, UK scientists would illustratively receive over £3 billion more under Pioneer.

Published 6 April 2023