Cardiff University’s economic contribution, Horizon Europe, COST, covid research31 October 2022
It has been another tumultuous and torturous month in UK politics. I won’t go into all that except to say that from a University point of view what we need from the Sunak administration is effective action on the cost of living crisis, clarity and certainty about visa policy in relation to international students (the re-appointment of Suella Braverman as Home Secretary is particularly worrying in this respect) and a commitment that the spending on research and innovation promised in the Comprehensive Spending Review last year will be retained. This is difficult because at £20bn (even spread over four years) it is a significant amount of money that could be a target for spending cuts. On the positive side, with Rishi Sunak as Prime Minister and Jeremy Hunt as Chancellor, we do have individuals in the key positions who recognise the value of universities as anchor institutions and engines of the economy, even if from our point of view there are many other principles at stake. I will report next month on what the Autumn Statement due on November 17 will mean for us, and on any changes in visa policy that might be signalled. On that matter again it is reasonable to hope that Sunak and Hunt will prevail, given the importance of international student recruitment to their economic agenda.
Given the focus on economic growth that we have seen over recent weeks, I would like to draw your attention to the recently published update report on Cardiff University’s contribution to the economy of Wales and the UK. The report draws on 2020-21 data and even at that time, at the height of the pandemic, our total economic impact on the UK was almost £3.7bn. This means that for every £1 we spent, we generated £6.40, significantly outperforming our comparator institutions which, on average, generate £5.50 per £1 spent. In addition, we directly and indirectly support 14,000 full-time equivalent jobs, not just in Cardiff but more broadly in Wales and the UK. Our impact has grown by 6% in real terms since 2016/17, despite all the headwinds we have faced. Whatever the drama in the UK government we continue to make a significant contribution to jobs and growth in this country and we can be hugely proud of that.
Moving on to another matter of key interest, it remains UK government policy to associate to Horizon Europe, and there is no reason to believe that will change. Grant Shapps is now the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and George Freeman has been re-appointed as science minister after a break during the Truss interlude. Association is being held up by the European Commission, which is linking it to resolving the question of the Northern Ireland Protocol. That is not something we can influence of course, so we will have to be patient and the question only becomes when to recommend that the government implement the alternative plan if association continues to drag on. In the meantime, however, it is important to remain fully engaged in Europe, and to that end towards the end of the month I visited Brussels with other Welsh vice-chancellors and the Minister for Education and the Welsh Language, Jeremy Miles. In part this was to publicise Taith, but it was also an opportunity to explore opportunities for research engagement outwith Horizon Europe.
There are two main opportunities here. One of them is Wales-specific but still in development and small-scale so I will leave that for a later email. The other is a programme that has been in existence since 1971, long pre-dating all the Framework programmes, and while it is generally seen as a way of preparing networks to bid for Horizon funding these days, it is in principle open to all to apply, irrespective of ultimate intention. This is COST, which is the acronym for European Co-operation in Science and Technology. Many of you may be familiar with COST which, despite the name, is open to all disciplines. So-called COST Actions are research networks that take the form of a joint work programme over four years collaborating in the fields of science and technology (broadly interpreted, as I mention above) with funding of up to €150,000 a year. The money does not fund research directly, but provides support for networking activities carried out within COST Actions, such as meetings, networking, conferences, publications, short-term research visits, training and dissemination activities. While this is in no way a substitute for a Horizon grant (nor is it meant to be), it is nevertheless a way for UK researchers to access EU funding, get involved or stay involved in networks and generally be engaged in European activity at a time when despite the UK government funding guarantee (underwrite), UK involvement in Horizon projects has steeply declined (as has that of Switzerland). COST actions are open to researchers at all career stages including doctoral students, and individuals can join existing networks or propose new ones. The former process is particularly helpful for PhD students, post docs and early career researchers. More information can be found on the COST website and although we have seen Cardiff COST Actions negatively affected by Brexit, it is important to recognise the importance of remaining part of the European system as far as we can.
Finally, many of us are now receiving our covid boosters and flu vaccines as winter approaches, and our researchers continue to make important contributions to research in this area. A Cardiff team consisting of Dr Martin Scurry, Professor Andrew Godwin and Dr James Hindley, working with local biotech firm Immunoserv Ltd, has developed a finger-prick blood test that can be done at home to identify the level of long-lasting immunity an individual has generated to the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. This will be a powerful new tool in assessing the levels of longer-lasting immunity in the population, which in turn will enable the public health response to be more focussed and developed with greater confidence. As I mentioned last time, whilst covid is not the threat it once was, we must not be complacent, especially given the possibility that new variants may yet emerge. It is good for all of us that researchers in Cardiff and elsewhere continue to build our defences against whatever the virus may have in store for us in the future.
With best wishes