Fears for Research in Europe

Are low chances of being funded discouraging best researchers from key European Commission program?

October 27, 2016

The best researchers risk being turned off the European Commission’s flagship science and innovation program because of the poor chances of securing funding, a group of universities has warned.

The League of European Research Universities added that the low success rates highlight the need to restore the program’s original budget after it was raided to establish a new strategic investment fund.

The findings form part of LERU’s Interim Evaluation of Horizon 2020, the pan-European funding program that will dish out 80 billion euros ($87 billion) for research between 2014 and 2020.

Laura Keustermans, policy officer at LERU and author of the report, told Times Higher Education, “Oversubscription and low success rates are a threat to Horizon 2020.”

“It is important that the best researchers want to participate in Horizon 2020,” she said, adding that for them to do so the success rates need to be “decent,” otherwise they might choose to apply to other programs.

Success rates for Horizon 2020 came under the spotlight this month after the European University Association published a report that suggested that institutions in Europe wasted €1.4 billion ($1.5 billion) on crafting proposals that went unfunded.

Keustermans added that the budget of Horizon 2020 needs to be protected. “The less the budget you have, the fewer projects you can fund and the lower the success rate is,” she added.

Last year, the president of the commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, diverted billions of Horizon 2020’s original budget to create the European Fund for Strategic Investment, a scheme that the EUA recently said is “not working” for universities.

To help boost researchers’ chances of securing funding, the LERU report suggests that the most popular research calls be repeated to give scientists another opportunity to submit proposals. It also urges the commission to investigate whether some funding for less popular areas of research could be diverted to fields that are oversubscribed.

The next commission funding program should also look at funding the entire innovation pipeline, it adds. At the moment in the “Societal Challenges” pillar of Horizon 2020, too much focus is given to the end of the innovation pipeline where research is close to the market, LERU says. “The EC needs to be careful of putting too much emphasis there,” Keustermans said.

Recommendations for the next European research program have also been made in a position statement from Science Europe, an association of research funders.

The statement, published this month, calls for Horizon 2020’s successor to consider more fully the contribution that science makes to society when funding Societal Challenges research. It argues that the commission’s use of technology readiness levels, a method of assessing how close an idea is to being a product, does not leave enough room for curiosity-driven research.

Science Europe also calls for the remaining budget of Horizon 2020 to be protected.

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