The early bird catches the worm: engage now with EU Structural and Investment funding

By Professor Dave Delpy, Chief Executive of EPSRC and RCUK Impact Champion

 From 2014, EU Structural and Investment (S&I) funding will, for the first time, be available for investment in research and innovation across the whole of the UK.

Everyone is familiar with the ‘EC Structural Funds’ but many people may not be aware that from 2014, EU Structural and Investment (S&I) funding, which is what they are known by in the UK, will for the first time be available for investment in research and innovation across the whole of the UK. With a total pot of €9.6 billion available for the period 2014-2020, as RCUK we’re keen to encourage universities and research institutes to engage proactively with this funding stream.

For this reason RCUK, in partnership with the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and Universities UK, has written to all UK higher education institutions to highlight the opportunity to make use of existing higher education, research and innovation investments to leverage EU S&I funding.

While RCUK has a pan-UK remit, it’s important to note that the EU S&I funding for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will be separately managed. In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, institutions will engage through the respective local managing authorities (Scottish Enterprise, Welsh Assembly Government and DEL/DETI). In England the situation is far more complicated as institutions will have to engage with their Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) to tap into this funding.

The funding will be focused on four national priorities:

  • innovation R&D
  • low carbon
  • SMEs
  • skills and economic inclusion. 

While there are clearly many opportunities to access this valuable source of funding within the ‘innovation R&D’ priority, those interested would do well to consider the remaining three, which may well bear fruit under closer inspection.

Currently, the three devolved nations are each producing Smart Specialisation Strategies which will set out their high-level plans for spending their allocation of EU S&I funding. In England, LEPs will be responsible for designing and delivering local strategies on how best to use this funding, meaning that early engagement with your local LEP now is vital in shaping how the funding will be directed. Each LEP has received a notional allocation from the funds, which must be spent in line with the four national priorities. More information on the background of these funds and how they will be administered for 2014-20 in England can be found in the preliminary guidance that has been issued to LEPs. Final guidance is currently expected shortly.

Although at an operational level, the responsibility to engage with LEPs lies with universities and institutes, RCUK is working closely with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the Technology Strategy Board, HEFCE and Universities UK on a high-level strategic approach to understand how to add value to UK investments by the appropriate use of EU S&I funding. We want to minimise the administrative burden to participants and ensure that where funds are used, the anticipated outcomes are aligned with national funders’ strategies, and do not impose unrealisable reporting requirements.

We know that universities, higher education colleges and public sector research establishments are all playing an important role in the Government’s economic growth agenda, but we want to explore how we might do even more. This is why we have asked institutions to share any feedback on the new arrangements. We would be interested specifically in hearing about any barriers you perceive that prevent the UK gaining full benefit from the availability of EU S&I funding. We’d like to know about how the new arrangements in England working with LEPs can be made to work effectively, but also broader UK comment on research and innovation alignment. Any ideas you may have concerning how best to address those barriers would also be welcome.

Feedback on the new arrangements for EU S&I funding can be sent to RCUK, UUK and HEFCE via by 14 July 2013.

With an ambition for 40 per cent of the funding to be spent on R&D, this is an exciting opportunity to access this newly expanded stream of funding. And in this instance, it looks like it really will be the early bird that catches the worm.