Risk to vital research funding if the UK leaves the EU

New figures show that nearly 1,000 projects at 78 UK universities and research centres receive funds from the European Research Council (ERC) and would be put at risk if the UK were to leave the European Union.

The figures, compiled by the House of Commons Library, also show that the UK has more ERC funded projects than any other country, accounting for 22 per cent of all ERC funded projects – more than 25 recipient countries put together.

The €1.7 billion of ERC funds are part of much wider EU support for research, development and innovation projects. In total, between 2007 and 2013 UK universities received €4.9 billion from EU funds and analysis by the Royal Society has shown that the UK benefits from a net gain of EU research funds of €3.4 billion.

Commenting, Angela Eagle MP, Labour’s Shadow First Secretary of State and Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills:

“These figures highlight the risk to our universities of the UK leaving the European Union.

“EU funded research at the UK’s leading universities has led to vital scientific discoveries, including potential treatments for cancer and heart disease.

“Leaving the EU would put at risk this funding stream and undermine the UK’s world-leading university sector, putting our competitive advantage and highly-skilled jobs at risk.” 


Details of case studies of projects that have received ERC funding:

Brain research
A crucial discovery of how the brain functions was made by EU funded researchers at King’s College London. The findings could help develop new therapies for neurological disorders such as epilepsy, which affects around 50 million people globally. (ERC, November 2015, https://erc.europa.eu/projects-and-results/erc-stories/brain-tuneable-hardware)

Heart research 
Important research funded by EU grants, at Imperial College London, identified a stem cell injection that could repair heart muscle damaged during a heart attack. Heart-related diseases are the leading global cause of death. The discovery is an early but important step towards heart regeneration science. (ERC, May 2015,https://erc.europa.eu/projects-and-results/erc-stories/broken-hearts-may-be-repaired)

Cancer research
EU funded researchers at Imperial College London have developed a ‘smart’ surgical knife that can ‘smell’ the tissues it is cutting through- with the potential to revolutionise cancer treatments. In the United Kingdom alone, there are 300,000 new cases every year – leading to almost two million surgical operations annually. (ERC, November 2013,https://erc.europa.eu/projects-and-results/erc-stories/%E2%80%98smart%E2%80%99-knife-fight-cancer-crime-and-contamination)


1. Details of European Research Council funded projects under the 2007-2013 Framework Programme can be found in the attached spreadsheet (‘House of Commons library ERC figures’), provided by the House of Commons Library.

2. The €1.7 billion ERC funding for this period has gone to 78 UK universities and research centres and funded 975 projects. The second spreadsheet (‘ERC grants country by country figures’) shows that 21.7 per cent of all ERC funded projects are in the UK.

3. However universities and research centres also receive EU funding from other sourced than the ERC. According to the Royal Society, over the period 2007-2013, UK universities received €4.9 billion through FP7 Framework Programme. (Royal Society, ‘UK research and the European Union: The role of the EU in funding UK research’, December 2015, p.18, https://royalsociety.org/~/media/policy/projects/eu-uk-funding/uk-membership-of-eu.pdf)

4. Across other sectors, including direct support to businesses, the UK received €8.8 billion in EU funding for research, development and innovation projects. Analysis by the Royal Society shows that the UK benefits from a net gain of EU research funds of €3.4 billion. (Royal Society, December 2015, p.12,https://royalsociety.org/~/media/policy/projects/eu-uk-funding/uk-membership-of-eu.pdf)

5. 13 UK universities are ranked in the top 25 European universities in terms of the top recipients of funds from the EU. Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial College London, and University College London, alone occupy the top four spots. (Royal Society, December 2015’, p.17, https://royalsociety.org/~/media/policy/projects/eu-uk-funding/uk-membership-of-eu.pdf)

6. EU funding is available to non-EU members or so-called ‘associated countries’. ‘Associated countries’ are not Member States, but are party to an international agreement with the EU, under the terms or on the basis of which the country makes a financial contribution to EU funds. (European Research Council,https://erc.europa.eu/glossary/8/lettera ) The terms of their association differ from country to country- however, none of them have a role in the negotiations that shape EU research funding. . (Royal Society, December 2015’, p.10,https://royalsociety.org/~/media/policy/projects/eu-uk-funding/uk-membership-of-eu.pdf)

7. Iceland, Serbia, Turkey, Norway, Switzerland and Israel have received ERC funding.  However, combined they account for only 14 per cent of projects.

8. If the UK left the EU, we would still need to contribute funding as a member of an ‘associated country’ if we wanted to bid for grants- with no guarantee that the terms would be in anyway as favourable as they currently are. This would put vital research in jeopardy

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