Archive for ERC

ERC Starting Grant Statistics

Posted in Politics, Science Politics, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , on January 10, 2022 by telescoper

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.

IRC Starting and Consolidator Awards

Posted in Maynooth, Science Politics, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on July 9, 2021 by telescoper

Just a quick post to pass on the news that there are a couple of new funding programmes run by the Irish Research Council. The full description of these programmes can be found here, but here is an excerpt:

The Council is inviting applications at the early and mid-career level (Starting and Consolidator). Funding will be awarded on the basis solely of excellence, assessed through a rigorous and independent international peer-review process. Laureates will enhance their track record and international competitiveness. As well as the benefits for the laureate and their team, it is anticipated that the award will enhance the potential for subsequent ERC success as a further career milestone; indeed it will be a requirement of all laureates that they make a follow-on application to the ERC.

Fortunately the remit of the IRC is broader than Science Foundation Ireland, which has a narrow focus on research likely to lead to short-term returns, so it is more likely to appeal to those working in more speculative fundamental or frontier science, including Astrophysics. Unfortunately IRC has a lot less money than SFI.

An overview of the programme can be found in the following recording of a webinar that took place last week:

The way the call works is that you must first lodge an Expression of Interest with the institution to which you wish to apply, i.e. Maynooth University. That must be done by 27th August 2021. Full applications will then be due in November.

ERC Starting (and Finishing) Grants

Posted in Politics, Science Politics with tags , , , , on September 3, 2019 by telescoper

Just time for a quick note to announce that the European Research Council has announced the winners of the latest round of `Starting Grants’ (which are intended to further the research plans of early career researchers). Full details are here. Congratulations to all the winners, and especially  Erminia Calabrese in the School of Physics & Astronomy at Cardiff University!

In all, 408 applicants were selected for funding, hosted in 24 different countries. The split by nationality and discipline is as follows:

I’ll make two comments on the numbers.

First, the United Kingdom is host to a total of 64 awards. It is however very unclear what will happen in the case of a `No Deal’ Brexit in which the British Government refuses to honour its existing financial commitments. Hopefully even in this case these grants will go ahead in some form (perhaps funded directly by the UK).

Second, note that there is only one award for Ireland and nothing in either Physical Sciences or Life Sciences. This is very disappointing, but is probably a fair reflection of the Irish governments ongoing failure to invest in basic science.

It’s not that the Irish aren’t good at research. Here is another graphic that shows that 7 Irish researchers were actually awarded grants under this scheme, but none of them chose to hold their awards in Ireland:

 

 

That tells you something about the environment for early career researchers in this country.

The imminent departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union makes its future participation in such schemes unlikely. Brexit could be a great opportunity for the research community in Ireland, if only the Irish Government would seize it, but it would first need to recognize the benefits of increasing investment in research. Sadly I don’t think it will.

 

Ten Years of the European Research Council

Posted in Politics, Science Politics with tags , , , , on February 9, 2017 by telescoper

This little video reminded me that we’re coming up to the tenth anniversary of the founding of the European Research Council (ERC).

 

In my opinion the ERC has been an outstanding success that has revitalized science across the continent and here in the United Kingdom. Sadly the UK government has decided that the United Kingdom will play no further part in ERC-funded schemes or any other programme funded by the EU.  The participation of UK scientists has already started to diminish and when it dries up completely there will be a significant loss of research income, especially for fundamental science. I’m grateful to Paul Crowther for pointing out that over the past decade there have been no fewer than 176 ERC awards to UK physics departments, meaning over  1/3 of a billion Euros in research funding.

I estimate that most physics & astronomy departments in the UK will lose 20-30% of their research income as a result of leaving the EU. Most also have a similar fraction of staff who are EU nationals, many of whom will leave because of the UK government’s shocking refusal to guarantee their right to remain. I find it sad beyond words that we as a nation are not only about to throw away our leading role in so many excellent research projects but also destroy our own credibility as a civilized nation by the mean-spirited way we are behaving.

But the ERC will at least offer British scientists two ways to continue their involvement with EU programmes. The first is that existing grants are portable, so principal investigators who decided to relocate to an EU country can take their funding with them. The second is that future ERC grants are open to applicants from any country in the world who wish to carry out their research within the EU.

As Niels Bohr famously remarked “prediction is very difficult, especially about the future”. I don’t know whether there will be a significant brain drain to the EU from the UK as a result of BrExit, but I do know many colleagues are talking about it right now. As for myself, if someone were to offer me a job in Europe I’d definitely take it.

(My CV is available on request).

 

 

Why the EU is Vital to UK Science

Posted in Politics, Science Politics with tags , , , on February 22, 2016 by telescoper

The EU referendum campaign may only just have started but already there have been deliberate attempts to mislead the electorate about the realitites of  EU membership. I know that people will consider a wide range of issues before casting their vote in the forthcoming referendum. I am glad there is to be a referendum because there is at least a chance that some truth will emerge as these topics are discussed publicly over the next four months.

My views on the wider questions raised by the referendum are of no greater value than anyone else’s so I am going to restrict myself here to one issue that I do know something about: the importance of continued EU membership to UK Science. Before going on I will state, for the record, that I am not in receipt of any grants or other income from the EU. Not that this should matter. I deeply resent the snide implications of the “out” campaign that  ERC or other EU grants represent some form of gravy train. They don’t. Such awards are highly competitive and subject to strict accounting rules. They are used to fund research not to generate personal wealth. Scientists are not bankers.

Anyway, I believe that it would be a disaster for science if the UK were to quit the EU. In the Department of Physics & Astronomy at Sussex around one-quarter of our research income comes via the EU. Without that cash we would have to make drastic cuts which would certainly lead to redundancies. And I don’t for one minute believe that such funding would be replaced by increases from the UK government. It has been a hard slog just to get level cash settlements for science over the last two Parliaments, and that has led to steady real-terms attrition of support for scientific research. Meanwhile, the EU has, wisely for the future of the European economy, been increasing its science budget in real terms. Many research groups are only viable because of the EU’s strategic vision. We have in front of us the very real prospect of the devastation of our science base if Brexit becomes a reality.

But it’s not just about loss of funding. It’s also about the loss of influence. The UK benefits from EU membership because it has representatives around the table when funding priorities are decided. We provide scientific leadership to many projects, which reflects well on our reputation in the world and attracts significant inward investment. This loss of influence is, of course, not only the case for science but also for other areas of policy. The “out” campaign’s desire for isolationism would leave Britain with even less influence on its own destiny than it has now.

Of course these are personal views and you are free to disregard them. On the other hand, they are also the views of most UK scientists. Here are the key conclusions of  a recent survey and report:

  • 93% of researchers asked in the CaSE and EPC survey agreed that EU membership is a major benefit to UK.
  • Some regions of the UK are more dependent than others on EU funding in maintaining research capacity and infrastructure, and as a result could suffer disproportionate adverse impacts if this source was withdrawn.
  • The ability to attract academic staff to the UK through free movement of labour is important, particularly in science and engineering.
  • The role and benefits of EU membership to UK research is considered by researchers to be broader than just the funding for research that EU projects bring to the UK. The improvement in quality, reach and impact, facilitated by EU collaboration and coordination, helps to solve “Grand Challenge” problems in a way that would be much harder for any one country to achieve alone.

My only surprise with these survey results is that the fraction quoted in the first bullet point is as low as 93%. In my experience strong support for the EU is practically universal amongst scientific researchers across the entire spectrum of disciplines.

I realise science funding is unlikely to be the decisive issue for many people when it comes to casting their vote, but it is a topic I feel strongly about and it angers me greatly when campaigners deliberately misrepresent the view of real scientists. That is one of the reasons why I am a strong supporter of Scientists for the EU and I shall be campaigning strongly for Britain to remain at the heart of a Europe committed to science for the benefit of all its citizens.