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2019 is soon to come to an end. For many, this is a time to look back at the year that was. But, for the EU research community it is an important time to look at the year ahead. Different from most years, 2020 can be deemed as “the year of transition”, referring to the conclusion of the Horizon 2020 framework program (ending on December 2020), and the commencement of the new Horizon Europe framework program, to be launched on January 2021 for the duration of 7 full years. In this context, what can be noted about this year of transition? What especially important aspects need to be considered? What is the best way to navigate this final year of Horizon 2020 and prepare for Horizon Europe? Continue reading to learn more.

The final year of Horizon 2020 – what should you do?

Truth be told, while many are running forward and focusing much of their attention on the upcoming Horizon Europe program, the fact of the matter is that there is still an entire year of Horizon 2020 left. This final year should not be overlooked.

In this regard, we’d like to clear up common misconceptions about the final year of a framework program. To start, researchers often view this ‘slope at the end of the program’ as a time where there isn’t anything substantial or worthy to act upon. Others claim that ‘there is no more money’ in the program, and prefer to not bother with the grueling process of constructing a proposal. Having seen these final years time and again we’re here to say – quite the contrary! Not only is the final year budgeted like any other year, the current Horizon 2020 program still has an abundance of calls for proposals in 2020. These calls span across various research and development areas which makes it possible to find a call that is relevant to your research domain and interest.

So – if the timing is right for you, we recommend to check out the available calls for this final year, and to exhaust potential available funding opportunities. If you need any assistance with ensuring your proposal is highly competitive, we are here to help, as always.

The uncertainty gap during the year of transition 

Having discussed our recommendation to fully exhaust the remaining Horizon 2020 funding opportunities, we can now turn our attention and begin preparing for Horizon Europe.

For the past 2-3 years, EC officials have worked to prepare and execute the new Horizon Europe framework program. Though their work is not done (expected to conclude by the end of 2020), it has already generated much attention, rumors, discussions, debates, and speculations. While media coverage mainly focuses on the bottom line relating to the final budget of the program, the research community is also focusing its attention on both the administrative aspects and the scientific agenda of this new framework program:

  1. Administrative. Here we refer to the ongoing discussion on the administrative, legal and financial sides of the current program, and what the new one may present. Since participants are all legal entities, mostly large organizations, it is rather understandable that they prefer to prepare as soon as possible according to the rules and fine details of the new program. Not knowing such rules spurs additional unease in the community of researchers.
  2. Agenda. Additionally, an aspect that creates a lot of noise during a year of transition is the agenda of the new program. Namely, researchers question what the new agenda will look for ‘scientifically speaking’? What is the main interest of the program? Will it continue to push towards more innovative actions? Near-market applications? Will it focus on basic research instead? Perhaps the focus will be on both? These types of questions are endless….

Finally, specifically speaking to UK researchers and anyone who is collaborating with UK research, is Brexit. At the time of writing this article, the exact tangible meaning of Brexit to UK research is still unclear. In this regard, we recommend to stay updated through our dedicated Brexit status article in our knowledge base.

Having noted the above uncertainties, we can certainly understand the good amount of stress they bring. In the hopes of mitigating at least some of this stress, we can begin a discussion on what the new framework programme will likely bring. Keep in mind – while the discussion below relies on our experience with previous transitions of programs, we cannot yet speak with 100% certainty regarding Horizon Europe.

What to expect from Horizon Europe

Having already experienced the transition periods of FP4 to FP5, FP5 to FP6, FP6 to FP7 and FP7 to Horizon 2020, we have been able to mark common trends and aspects that can be expected to follow suit in the upcoming transition as well. Generally, we’d like to note that transitions from one framework program to another always introduce changes. But, such changes can be regarded more as evolutions, rather than major revolutions, of the current funding scheme. Let’s discuss some of the most central possible changes below :

  • Restructuring of the program. Initially, Horizon Europe planned to have a different structure than Horizon 2020. Amongst other things, this refers to the official inclusion of the EIC structure (which was in ‘pilot’ mode until now), reshuffling of the Horizon 2020 2nd and 3rd pillars into a single pillar, a 2nd new pillar under Horizon Europe, the introduction of the “mission-oriented approach”, European partnerships, a growing inclusion of the Open Science concept and tools, and so on. More on this initial plan can be learned through the official website of the European Union. Though this is not yet final, it is likely that this change of structure will mainly impact the way the offices are structured and managed on the EC side. As for most applicants – it is probable that this restructuring won’t change much. Conceptually speaking, the detailed topics and structures under each one of the themes, in each one of the new pillars, will probably continue to work as before. Still, follow the next items about expected (mostly technical) changes.
  • New terminology. The new program will likely introduce a new vocabulary of terms. Past experience showcases two groups of terms under these programs. The first group represents tangible terms that we should work with (e.g. The Horizon 2020 RIA/IA/CSA to describe the type of project to be funded). The second group of terms is for descriptive usage (e.g. The Horizon 2020 “Societal Challenges”). For both cases, it is very likely that some of the new terms will simply replace old ones used in the previous program, while the essence will remain the same. The key is to become acquainted with the new lingo and understand which is a definitive new term and which is a ‘recycled’ one. Finally, note that it is probable that some of the terms used in Horizon 2020 will simply remain unchanged in Horizon Europe.
  • Changes of details. As you probably know, the framework program is packed with details and instructions. From previous transitions, we can expect that there may be some changes to the grant agreement and its legal and operative implications, proposal templates, guidelines and highlights of the expected messages in the applications, simplified forms of grants (i.e. looks like Horizon Europe will be building on the Horizon 2020 lump sum pilot experience), instructions to the reviewers, and more. Though such changes are quite likely, we can surmise they will not be too dramatic (just as changes in previous program transitions were not). On the contrary, we expect it to be rather simple to adapt to the formats, guidelines, instructions and rules of the new framework program.
  • Rules of participation. Not only is this particular area less vibrant in terms of rumors, it is also safe to expect no dramatic changes to pan out in reality. That being said, we do expect some changes in the fine details, but prefer to wait for the final word from Brussels (expected by mid-late 2020) before discussing them in depth.
  • Open to the world. Horizon 2020 was more open to worldwide participants in comparison to past framework programs. We are in a position to say that this policy is likely to stay, subject to changes in the rules of participation, as stated above.
  • Simplification. Similar to past transitions, once again there is a global call for further simplification under the Horizon Europe program. Simply put, a simplified process is always going to be a top request from the research community. Horizon Europe is up for the task and some simplifications will likely be introduced. The ones already discussed are: alignment to the Financial Regulation, increased use of simplified forms of grants, and broader acceptance of usual cost accounting practices. On this note, already “simplified” practices from Horizon 2020 will probably remain, such as the funding model which includes up to 100% funding rate of direct costs to some of the grants. Despite the natural expectation for simplifications, keep in mind that these framework programs distribute and manage enormous amounts of public money. Therefore, some of the processes and procedures may stay as they are, or even become less simplified to accommodate more important needs.
  • Impact. In line with the ongoing trend in Horizon 2020, Impact will continue to have a central role on the new Horizon Europe stage. We have a set of Impact articles in our knowledge base, which thoroughly discuss the concept of impact. Since this is likely to remain relevant in Horizon Europe, get a head start by referring to these articles.

The bottom line…

The exciting new Horizon Europe framework programme is entering its final phase of structuring. This process will last until the end of 2020. To be clear, there is definitely a learning curve for the new program and its fine details. First and foremost – stay tuned for news and updates about Horizon Europe. While we do expect exciting new funding opportunities, once officially released, the Enspire Science team will closely attend to the fine details, master them, and share any important information with you. Stay tuned, and in the meanwhile don’t forget to exhaust the final Horizon 2020 funding opportunities.