ERC Starting Grant Statistics

Today the European Research Council (ERC) announced the first round of winners of Starting Grants under the new Horizon Europe programme. The results make for interesting reading. Some 397 grants were awarded worth a total of €619 million, i.e. about €1.5 million each on average, all intended for researchers in the early stages of their careers. A complete list of award winners can be found in this PDF document. Congratulations to all of them!

Here is the breakdown by host country:

You will see that Ireland has secured 8 (half in social sciences & humanities, and half in science). That’s not bad for a small country, and is comparable with Denmark, Norway and Finland. The only two funded in Physical Sciences & Engineering in Ireland are both at the University of Limerick.

The big shock, however, is that the number of grants to be hosted in the UK is down sharply on previous Starter Grant rounds. In previous years that I can remember the UK was at the top of the awards table. Now top spot goes to Germany, with the UK in third place, only just above the Netherlands. I wonder what the reason could be for that?

You might be surprised that the UK is listed at all because it is not in the EU has not signed an association agreement with the European Union. Switzerland, also not in the EU, has been awarded 28 grants but these are not eligible for funding because negotiations on association have ended without a signature. According to the ERC website:

As a result, host institutions established in Switzerland are not eligible for funding. Exceptionally for this call, since it was already closed before the termination of the negotiations between the EU and Switzerland, the proposals submitted with Swiss host institutions and which have been selected for funding may remain eligible if their host institution is replaced with a legal entity established in an eligible country.

This looks like a cue for other institutions to start poaching! Israel and Norway are non-EU countries have agreements in place.

The situation with the UK, as far as I understand it, is that negotiations towards an association agreement are currently snarled up with issues surrounding the Northern Ireland Protocol component of the UK’s withdrawal agreement from the European Union. If an agreement is signed before contracts have to be issued (in April) then the grants to UK institutions will be funded by the EU. If not then not.

In addition, successful applicants established in a country in the process of associating to Horizon Europe will not be treated as established in an associated country if the association agreement does not apply by the time of the signature of the grant agreement. 

In this case, however, the UK Government will fund these through the UKRI budget. So they say.

On the other hand, these grants are portable and some winners may decided to change host institution to avoid any uncertainty. Cue some more poaching?

Another thing that is striking is that although 46 UK institutions are intended hosts for such funding, only 12 of the grantees have UK nationality.

It follows that many of the UK’s grantees are from elsewhere, either in the EU or outside. It is possible under this scheme for awardees to relocate to institutions in member countries from non-member countries, which accounts for the large number of “Others” in the plot.

Notice the opposite applies to Italy: there are 58 Italian grantees but only 28 grants will be hosted in Italy.

Here is the breakdown by gender:

Anyway, you can read more about the statistics in this PDF document here.

5 Responses to “ERC Starting Grant Statistics”

  1. John Peacock Says:

    Such a decline may have expected. Even assuming that the UK membership of the ERC gets extracted from the fracas over Northern Ireland before April (far from clear, alas), we will be one of 17 “associated countries” (like Switzerland, Israel, the Faroes…). My belief (though I can’t track down a reference for this, and would be grateful to be pointed to confirmation or otherwise) is that such countries are subject to Juste Retour, and get back from the ERC what they put in. But no such limit exists for full EU member states, and it’s well known that the UK benefited from this: I believe we got something like 25% more funding than you would expect for the size of our contribution. If what I’m remembering regarding Juste Retour is correct, that would help explain a downward step in grants awarded.

    • telescoper Says:

      The ERC wikipedia page states “Research grant applications should be judged using the sole criterion of peer-reviewed excellence, independent of political, geographic or economic considerations. All ERC competitions for funding are open to top researchers from any country in the world, as long as they are committed to work at least half of their time in Europe. The quality and originality of the research project and the qualifications of the applicant( as shown, for example, by their publication record) are the only evaluation criteria. This means that there will be no juste retour, in other words there are no guarantees that the individual countries contributing to the programme will receive any part of the funding.” I think this applies to associated countries as well as full members, but I’m not sure on that.

    • No, no, no, the assessment of research proposals by the ERC panels is purely based on excellence and does not reflect on the nationality of the applicant (or on any other non-academic characteristic). There is not even a balance between sub-domains. For instance, If I remember correctly, a few years ago 3 of the 12 ERC starting grants in Mathematics (PE1) were in number theory.

    • The ‘associated country’ status hasn’t stopped Israel from being very successful with ERC grants.

      I believe Switzerland has a similar plan as the UK, so their national funding organization will fund the PIs who decide to remain there.

  2. I know of a bunch of people who are not even contemplating putting applications in to be hosted in the UK until the association agreement situation resolves itself. The process is laborious enough without that extra uncertainty.

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