Farry and Foster scan the “Horizon” for European research success

A new fund has been launched aimed at helping Northern Ireland research organisations and businesses increase their success in securing funding from the European Commission for major international Research & Development (R & D) projects.

Employment and Learning Minister, Dr Stephen Farry, and Economy Minister, Arlene Foster, today announced the new DEL/DETI “Higher Education EU Support Fund” which will provide Queen’s University and the University of Ulster with around £1.8 million for the next three academic years. The funding is designed to assist the universities develop and implement a strategic approach to becoming more successful in the highly competitive and prestigious European research arena.

In particular, the fund will support the employment of seven “Northern Ireland Horizon 2020 Contact Points” to be known as NICPs. They will provide specialist advice and assistance to academics and businesses across areas of economic relevance to Northern Ireland and of priority to the European Commission. This will include areas such as energy, advanced materials and transport technologies, information and communication technologies, and connected health.

Dr Farry said: “The purpose of this new fund is to strengthen Northern Ireland’s support structures for the seventh EU Framework Programme ‘FP7’ and its successor, Horizon 2020, in order to significantly increase our drawdown of European research funding. The decision by both our Departments to make available this substantial additional funding to the Northern Ireland universities recognises that, at present, they are best placed to achieve the largest proportion of that increase because of the focus of EU R&D and Innovation programmes on research excellence.

“Furthermore, this decision also recognises that Queen’s and the University of Ulster have a key role to play in helping to increase business engagement with Europe, working closely alongside the excellent Collaborative R&D Support Service provided by Invest NI.”

The NICP network, which will be coordinated by DETI, will be supplemented by Invest NI which will assume the role of NICP for SMEs.

Welcoming the announcement, Arlene Foster said: “This new initiative is an excellent example of joined-up Government between our two Departments. It reflects the long-term strategic approach we must adopt to meet the challenging targets set for Northern Ireland under the Barroso Taskforce.

“Supporting our local companies and research organizations to be more successful in EU R&D funding programmes is of critical importance in building a more dynamic and innovative economy for Northern Ireland. This fund, combined with the work of Invest NI, will significantly enhance the support available to local organisations and will also ensure that Northern Ireland is better placed to succeed in Horizon 2020.”

The European Commission’s seventh EU Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development (FP7) is currently the world’s largest research programme with a total budget of over €50 billion. FP7 will run from 2007-2013, whereupon it will be replaced by Horizon 2020 which will run from 2014-2020 with an estimated budget of €80 billion.