KU Leuven applauds UK's return to Horizon research programme: 'We fought for this'

KU Leuven, Flanders and Belgium's largest university, is delighted with the United Kingom's return to the European scientific research programme Horizon. "This does mean that we will have to concede our position as Horizon's number one university, but we are happy to give that up, given the boost it will give to academic cooperation," KU Leuven rector Luc Sels told Belga on Friday.

The UK left the Horizon programme due to Brexit, but on Thursday it was announced that the two parties had reached a "tailor-made" new deal after months of negotiations. Horizon is the EU’s key funding programme for research and innovation, with a budget of 95.5 billion euros. On average, the UK will contribute around 2.6 billion euros a year.

"We did not conduct these negotiations, but we fought very hard for this," Sels said. "This is of much more than just symbolic importance."

'Talk of the day'

"The UK's return to Horizon was the talk of the day here," he said. "The enthousiasm among other European universities is great, too. This will undoubtedly give a great boost to academic cooperation in Europe."

KU Leuven is currently the leading university within Horizon, in terms of number of projects and budget. As was the case before Brexit, it will be surpassed by the British universities of Oxford, Cambridge and University College London. "But we are happy to give up the number one spot, given the boost this will give to academic cooperation," Sels said.

"The UK's return to Horizon was the talk of the day here. The enthousiasm among other European universities is great, too"

For KU Leuven, important domains of cooperation with UK universities have traditionally been the medical sciences, bioengineering and artificial intelligence. "Our cooperations included, in fact, every research domain," Sels said. "There are also the human sciences, economics, archaeology, and so on."

Geopolitical advantage

An added advantage of the UK's rejoining Horizon, Sels says, is geopolitical, and might prevent British universities from focusing their international ties on the US or Canada rather than Europe. In this respect, partnering with the UK could also benefit Europe as a whole, "in the domain of defence, for example".

"We will now focus our lobbying efforts on Switzerland"

However, Sels said, the work is not over. The agreement entails the UK re-entering Horizon, but not the Erasmus programme, Europe's foreign exchange programme for students and researchers. He now wants to focus lobbying efforts on Switzerland, which does not yet participate in the Horizon programme.



#FlandersNewsService | KU Leuven rector Luc Sels © BELGA PHOTO THIERRY ROGE

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