UK suc­cess in ERC grants re­lies heav­ily on EU re­searchers

THE (Times Higher Education) - - CONTENTS - Rachael.pells@timeshigh­ere­d­u­ca­tion.com

The num­ber of UK-based early ca­reer aca­demics win­ning grants from the Euro­pean Re­search Council has fallen af­ter a tur­bu­lent year for re­searchers con­cerned about the im­pli­ca­tions of Brexit.

The lat­est fig­ures from the ERC show that the UK has slipped be­hind Ger­many in terms of suc­cess at win­ning pres­ti­gious starter grants, al­though it still fares well over­all, with 67 re­searchers at UK in­sti­tu­tions win­ning grants worth up to e1.5 mil­lion (£1.4 mil­lion) for the 2018 round.

Look­ing at the na­tion­al­ity of re­searchers, how­ever, the UK falls fur­ther down the list – the ma­jor­ity of in­di­vid­u­als who se­cured grants from UK in­sti­tu­tions are from other coun­tries (50 out of 67). Thirty of those grants were won by aca­demics from other Euro­pean coun­tries, sug­gest­ing that UK re­search re­lies heav­ily on tal­ent from else­where in the Euro­pean Union.

Last year, the num­ber of UK re­searchers win­ning the grants shot up by more than a sixth, top­ping Ger­many with 69 awards, sug­gest­ing that there might have been a rush of pro­pos­als made in the wake of the Brexit ref­er­en­dum vote.

A to­tal of 3,170 ap­pli­ca­tions were made for the 2018 start­ing grants, which award fund­ing from the Hori­zon 2020 pro­gramme for am­bi­tious projects to the bright­est and best young aca­demics across the world.

As was the case last year, just un­der 13 per cent of the to­tal ap­pli­ca­tions were funded, with fe­male re­searchers ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a slightly higher suc­cess rate (13.7 per cent) than their male coun­ter­parts (12.4 per cent).

In this round, Ger­man re­searchers were the most suc­cess­ful, claim­ing 73 grants, fol­lowed by re­searchers from Italy (42), France (33) and the Nether­lands (33). By com­par­i­son, 22 Bri­tish re­searchers were suc­cess­ful.

The com­pe­ti­tion also shows some ev­i­dence of re­searcher mo­bil­ity, as 40 award win­ners will move coun­try to take up their grant – and 16 of them will come from out­side the EU and Hori­zon 2020 mem­ber coun­tries.

The UK gov­ern­ment has made re­as­sur­ances about pro­tect­ing re­searcher mo­bil­ity and has pledged to un­der­write EU-funded projects even in the case of a “no deal” Brexit – but fears re­main within the sec­tor about the im­pli­ca­tions that Bri­tain’s de­par­ture could have, for in­stance on the ease of in­ter­na­tional col­lab­o­ra­tion and staff re­ten­tion.

Sep­a­rate fig­ures pub­lished in April re­veal that the share of EU re­search fund­ing go­ing to the UK over­all has dropped sig­nif­i­cantly since 2016.

Com­ment­ing on the ERC data, Jean-Pierre Bour­guignon, pres­i­dent of the fund­ing body, said: “Sci­en­tific tal­ent and am­bi­tious ideas are to be found all over Europe, and the ERC aims to give them stim­u­lus wher­ever they may be.”

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