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com
Founded by William Cullerne Bown
AHRC, science and the 15 March 2017

creative industries – p6
Hetan Shah People will not share data
for commercial purposes – p23
REF 2021 Consultation concessions – p4

Revealed: EU facilities
looking to exit UK
PIs plan moves to shift project headquarters elsewhere
UK-based academics leading research infrastructures by Cristina Gallardo cgnews@ResearchResearch.com
supported by funding from the European Commission
are to begin moving their headquarters to other Europe, is led by the Open University. The project,
European Union member states from as early as 2019. which is funded under Horizon 2020 until August
Gerry Gilmore, professor of experimental philoso- 2019, is also facing hard decisions.
phy at the University of Cambridge, coordinates an EU Europlanet’s chairman Nigel Mason said that the
astronomy consortium called Opticon. He told Research project would be run from the Open University until the
Fortnight that Opticon’s scientific leadership would be end of its Horizon 2020 contract. However, the execu-
moving to another EU member state as early as January tive board and management committee are discussing
2021, once its Horizon 2020 contract finishes. its post-Brexit future and sustainability plans, ahead of
The Optical Infrared Coordination Network for a mid-term review by the Commission in May.
Astronomy was launched more than 25 years ago to
bring together the operators of Europe’s medium to One likely OptiOn, he said, was to evolve towards
large optical infrared telescopes and corresponding a distributed office network—keeping one office in
data archives. It involves researchers and funders Britain but setting up others, including the main
in seven EU countries, led by the UK’s Science and headquarters, within the EU. If, however, the pro-
Technology Facilities Council. The project’s admin- ject remains a research infrastructure and applies to
istrative and coordination team is likely to move, Framework 9, the Commission is likely to nudge it
probably to the Netherlands, although the details and into becoming a European Research Infrastructure
hosts have not yet been confirmed, Gilmore said. Consortium—a move that will require the facility to be
Access to research infrastructures is available to hosted by an EU member state.
non-EU states, but EU membership plays a signifi- It is understood that the project’s managers would
cant role in decisions on where to locate facilities. like to move to Strasbourg. Mason denied that any
“The uncertainty is just too great and whatever status new location had been chosen, but acknowledged that
Britain may have in future EU Framework programmes several EU countries had volunteered to host the infra-
it will be essentially a second-rate status,” he said. structure’s headquarters. Proposals will be reviewed
The impacts of Opticon’s decision will be wide-rang- by the board at a conference in Prague in September.
ing. Gilmore will lose the project’s leadership and he said “Given the political situation, we have to prepare for
that there was no guarantee that the consortium’s 12 UK all eventualities. The distributed network of offices is
universities—including Oxford, St Andrews, Bath and the preferred option, it makes sense as it engages the
Sheffield—will remain in post-Brexit. community across Europe, and many other projects
Several UK-based start-ups and small companies are considering this option,” Mason said. “Europlanet
that have spun-out from the project are likely to be will continue existing and the UK will continue to play
wound up and the UK may also stop benefitting from a major role in our activities.”
the intellectual property that the project is gener- Both Gilmore and Robert Massey,
ating, Gilmore said. “The UK will lose substantial the deputy executive director of Every new opportunity
scientific leadership and influence in the EU. There the Royal Astronomical Society in for research funding
is going to be bad news all around. I don’t think peo- London, said that several other from every sponsor in
ple realise how many new jobs and new opportunities research infrastructures based in the UK, EU, US & beyond
have just been destroyed.” the UK were also considering scaling Every discipline
The Europlanet advanced research infrastructure, down their UK presence and moving
Every fortnight
which coordinates planetary science facilities across headquarters after 2019.
Issue No. 496