Access to EU funding means collaboration can continue

We learnt at the end of last year that UK-based researchers will still be able to bid for EU Framework Programme funding post-Brexit – but what does this mean in practice?

Researchers across the Francis Crick Institute rely on funding from the European Union to support their projects, hire specialists and purchase equipment.

But alongside the financial benefits, EU funding also has a unique way of bringing together experts and creating successful long-term collaborations.

We spoke to staff about why EU funding matters, the essential role it plays, and why the UK’s participation in Horizon Europe is so important.

Building networks across borders

 

Louise Walport

Louise Walport runs the Crick’s Protein-Protein Interaction Laboratory and is a lecturer at Imperial College London. 

Before establishing her group, Louise was awarded a prestigious Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) Global Fellowship – a European Fellowship that promotes excellent science through mobility. 

“My Marie Skłodowska-Curie Global Fellowship truly expanded my scientific horizons. I spent two years at the University of Tokyo, and a further year working with Professor Chris Schofield at the University of Oxford. 

In Japan, I learnt to apply a state-of-the-art screening technology from its pioneer, Professor Hiroaki Suga, whilst pursuing a research question of my own design, supported by generous funding for my research and personal development. This scientific freedom to plan and execute my own project as a postdoc gave me invaluable experience in many of the skills required as a group leader, building the foundations for my group at the Crick. 

My time in Japan also gave me the opportunity to develop a wide network of international colleagues and collaborators. Now spread throughout the globe, we are able to get together by Zoom to discuss the latest developments in the peptide field and provide a sounding board for each other’s ideas. I have no doubt that I would not be in the position I am now without having had this experience.”
 

Boosting researchers' careers

 

Paola Bonfanti

Paola Bonfanti leads the Crick’s Epithelial Stem Cell Biology & Regenerative Medicine Laboratory and is an associate professor at UCL. 

In 2015, Paola received a Starting Grant from the European Research Council (ERC) for an ambitious and high-risk project aimed at rebuilding a functional human thymus. Her team’s recent publication demonstrated this and Paola’s lab is now exploring ways to make the thymi suitable for use in organ transplantation.

“The ERC Starting Grant helped me to move on to the next stage of my career at UCL, and open a lab at the Crick in 2016. 

EU funding offers unique flexibility and promotes scientific exchange. I’ve worked in five different countries, so I know the benefits that this brings. As researchers, it lets us find the right environment for our ideas.

I’m really pleased that Roberta Ragazzini, a postdoc in my lab who joined the Crick from Paris, was recently awarded a MSCA Fellowship. It marks an important step towards her own scientific independence and I hope that she will benefit from similar opportunities to collaborate and exchange knowledge.

The UK is an integral part of the European scientific community and it is right that researchers here will participate in Horizon Europe.”

Transcending national boundaries

Louise Wren.

Louise Wren, Head of External Affairs at the Crick

“The inclusion of Horizon Europe in the Brexit deal is testament to the importance that both the UK and EU place on cross-border research collaboration.

Framework Programmes are the biggest and almost certainly the best multinational schemes in the world. At the Crick, our scientists have applied consistently for this funding since the referendum, and we’re pleased and relieved that we can continue bidding in the future. 

Many of our labs hold EU grants and it means a great deal – it helps our staff to compete on the global stage, forge collaborations, join networks, access career development opportunities and develop an outlook that transcends national boundaries. And beyond these many benefits, participating in Horizon Europe in the years to come will enable UK-based scientists to remain at the very heart of European research.”
 

Competing on the global stage

Paul Nurse

Paul Nurse, Director of the Francis Crick Institute

“It is very welcome news that UK scientists will be able to access Horizon Europe. This is not simply a question of money. The UK is a leader in science and working side-by-side with our EU partners will form a European scientific grouping that can lead the world.  Working together has never been more important as we continue to tackle COVID-19.

The goodwill and compromise needed to secure this agreement cannot be underestimated. I thank negotiators as well as the considerable work delivered behind the scenes not least by the UK Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance. 

It is clear that both sides recognise the vital role that EU funding plays in driving excellent research and international collaboration.”

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