UK re-es­tab­lishes dom­i­nance in ERC ad­vanced grants scheme

THE (Times Higher Education) - - NEWS - Chris.haver­gal@timeshigh­ere­d­u­ca­tion.

One in four grants un­der one of the Euro­pean Union’s most pres­ti­gious re­search fund­ing pro­grammes has been awarded to UK-based re­searchers, al­lay­ing some fears about the early im­pact of the Brexit vote but un­der­lin­ing the risk fac­ing Bri­tish uni­ver­si­ties if their ac­cess to the scheme is cur­tailed.

The Euro­pean Re­search Coun­cil said on 6 April that schol­ars based at UK uni­ver­si­ties had made 66 suc­cess­ful bids for ad­vanced grants, typ­i­cally worth up to e2.5 mil­lion (£2.2 mil­lion) each, more than any other coun­try.

Ad­vanced grants are aimed at es­tab­lished re­searchers and re­quire no con­sor­tia or co-fund­ing. The ERC awarded 269 grants in to­tal, worth e653 mil­lion, with Ger­many (42), France (34) and Switzer­land ( 24) the next most suc­cess­ful nations.

The UK’s suc­cess in the 2017 fund­ing round rep­re­sents a re­cov­ery from the 2016 com­pe­ti­tion, when the UK se­cured only 41 ad­vanced grants and was out­per­formed by Ger­many for the first time.

It also con­trasts with the UK’s weak­en­ing per­for­mance in some col­lab­o­ra­tive EU re­search pro­grammes in the wake of the coun­try’s de­ci­sion to leave the bloc. UK uni­ver­si­ties suf­fered a sharp drop of close to half a bil­lion eu­ros in the value of EU projects that they started co­or­di­nat­ing in the year af­ter the Brexit ref­er­en­dum.

How­ever, the UK’s con­tin­u­ing par­tic­i­pa­tion in EU-funded re­search post-Brexit re­mains in doubt, with Sam Gy­imah, the uni­ver­si­ties min­is­ter, re­fus­ing to com­mit to as­so­ci­ate mem­ber­ship of the next frame­work pro­gramme.

With 2,167 ap­pli­ca­tions hav­ing been sub­mit­ted for ad­vanced grants in 2017, down from about 2,400 the year be­fore, the suc­cess rate rose from 9.6 per cent to 12.4 per cent. The ERC funded 83 projects in the life sciences, 126 in the phys­i­cal sciences and engi­neer­ing, and 60 in the so­cial sciences and hu­man­i­ties.

Just 17 per cent of ad­vanced grants were awarded to fe­male re­searchers in 2017, although this was in line with the pro­por­tion of ap­pli­cants who were fe­male.

Jean-Pierre Bour­guignon, the pres­i­dent of the ERC, said that the ad­vanced grants would fund “au­da­cious” sci­en­tific projects that were likely to lead to sig­nif­i­cant break­throughs.

“There are many more bright minds with am­bi­tious ideas in Europe that the ERC could fund if we had more means,” Pro­fes­sor Bour­guignon said. “That’s why the ERC sci­en­tific coun­cil ar­gues for more re­sources for the fu­ture while keep­ing the strat­egy of us­ing sci­en­tific qual­ity as the only cri­te­rion for se­lec­tion.”

The ERC said that the 2017 ad­vanced grants would likely cre­ate an es­ti­mated 2,000 jobs for post­docs, PhD stu­dents and other staff in grantees’ re­search teams.

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