Research Council discontinues funding scheme for ERC applicants

Under the scheme, researchers whose applications for either an ERC Advanced Grant or an ERC Starting Grant were turned down due to budgetary limitations were potentially able to obtain up to 75 per cent of the funding sought. 

“We have decided to terminate this funding scheme because we are uncertain that it has provided sufficient benefit overall. When we started the scheme in 2008 we felt that the positive effects would outweigh the negative. Developments since that time indicate that this is no longer the case,” says Anders Hanneborg, Executive Director of the Division for Science at the Research Council.

Photo: Sverre Jarild “If the majority of Norwegian applicants who receive top marks do not reapply because they received funding from the Research Council, then the scheme is achieving the opposite of its purpose,” says Mr Hanneborg, Executive Director of the Division for Science at the Research Council. (Photo: Sverre Jarild) The logic behind the scheme

The scheme was originally launched to encourage more researchers at Norwegian institutions to apply for ERC funding. At first, Norwegian researchers found it difficult to compete successfully for the limited ERC grants, which in turn made them hesitant to put too many resources into producing grant applications. Thus, extra incentive was needed to motivate people to apply.

One problem throughout, however, has been that researchers who receive funding from the Research Council are disqualified from resubmitting applications for ERC funding for the same project.

Many of these high-calibre candidates would have had a good chance of winning ERC funding had they been eligible to resubmit their applications the following year. Moreover, the ERC is now introducing quarantine rules for grant applications that are not deemed of sufficiently high quality, which means that Norwegian applicants whose applications score well stand a better chance of securing funding.

No increase in applicants

While there has been a rise in the number of grant applications from Norway to the ERC in response to the most recent funding announcements, the number of Norwegian proposals submitted remains relatively low compared with other countries. The number of applications for researcher projects that attained top marks in the FRIPRO independent research funding scheme in 2013 far exceeds the number of applications to the ERC. This indicates that research institution-based measures and the Research Council’s ERC scheme have not managed to capitalise fully on the existing potential to expand the number of ERC applications.
In a survey carried out by the Technopolis Group on behalf of the Research Council, only nine per cent of the respondents stated that the Research Council’s scheme had played a role in their decision to submit an application for an ERC Starting Grant or a Consolidator Grant.

Surveys also indicate that only 29 per cent of ERC applicants subsequently seek ERC funding for another project after having received funding under the Research Council’s ERC scheme.

“If the majority of Norwegian applicants who receive top marks do not reapply because they received funding from the Research Council, then the scheme is achieving the opposite of its purpose. Funding was intended to encourage applicants who scored high to try again,” states Mr Hanneborg.

Large proportion of the FRIPRO budget

The Research Council’s funding for ERC applicants comprises a relatively large proportion of the funding available under the FRIPRO scheme for independent projects. Each ERC proposal granted Research Council funding has cost substantially more than the average FRIPRO researcher project.

“We have come to the conclusion that, on the whole, there are more negative than positive impacts from the scheme. On that basis, the scheme will not be continued under the EUs new framework programme, Horizon 2020. For those who wish to improve the quality of their grant applications to the ERC, there is help available from the Research Council’s Project Establishment Support (PES) funding scheme,” says Mr Hanneborg.

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