EU opens the €80 billion Horizon 2020 to researchers

EU opens the €80 billion Horizon 2020 to researchers

The European Commission this week opened the way for universities, research organisations and businesses to apply for a share of its massive €80 billion (US$110 billion) Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. But questions have already been raised over whether the proposed selection procedures will be good enough to reduce complaints about awards.

The research grants amount to more than €15 billion over the first two years of the seven-year programme, and will focus initially on personalised healthcare, digital security and smart cities.

The commission said that calls in the 2014 budget were worth around €7.8 billion, with funding focused on the three key pillars of Horizon 2020:

– ‘Excellent Science’ involving around €3 billion, including €1.7 billion for grants from the European Research Council for top scientists and €800 million for Marie Sklodowska-Curie fellowships for younger researchers.
– ‘Industrial Leadership’, where €1.8 billion has been earmarked to support Europe’s industrial leadership in areas like ICT, nanotechnologies, advanced manufacturing, robotics, biotechnologies and space.
– ‘Societal Challenges’, where €2.8 billion will be allocated for innovative projects in health, agriculture, maritime and bio-economy, energy, transport, climate action, the environment, resource efficiency and raw materials, reflective societies and security.

University response

The immediate reaction of the European University Association, or EUA, was “very positive”, said Dr Lidia Borrell-Damián, EUA director of research and innovation.

“We welcome very much the broad approach of H2020, which embraces all sorts of approaches that can contribute to the wellbeing of society at large,” she told University World News.

But while the evaluation and awards criteria looked good on paper, “when it comes to the reclassification of those projects which have been awarded high marks, that’s the tricky part,” she said.

The grant awards panel would determine a priority order for proposals that had been awarded the same scores, “and this introduces an element of uncertainty because within a broader topic, many different disciplines and approaches fall in”, Borrell-Damián explained.

Clearly there could be different proposals with the same high rank ready for funding but addressing different aspects of the same thing, “so on what basis are you going to decide on one over the other?” she asked.

“To me this is a very tricky point and it’s not explained in the rules. The commission had produced a few complaints in the past – less than 3% of applications – but it was aiming to reduce even this.

“That is fair and good. Yet I don’t know to what extent this broad approach will favour that, because beyond the absolutely good intentions – and I have no doubts about that – things may run into a bit of a dead end if you have two or three projects of the same good quality but with different approaches, maybe from different disciplines, but both equally important.

“If a highly ranked, highly marked proposal is not selected, what’s the argument you will use then? This is the key point,” said Borrell-Damián.

Horizon 2020

Horizon 2020 is the European Union’s biggest ever research and innovation framework programme.

Research funding is allocated on the basis of competitive calls, but the budget for Horizon 2020 includes funding for the Joint Research Centre – the European Commission’s in-house science service – the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, and research carried out within the framework of the Euratom Treaty.

The 2014-15 calls include €500 million over two years dedicated to innovative small and medium-sized enterprises, through a brand new SME instrument.

Gender aspects are expected to be included in many of the projects, and there is funding to further stimulate debate on science’s role within society.

There are also new rules to make open access a requirement for Horizon 2020, so that publications of project results are freely accessible to all.

More detail on qualifications and procedures is available here and here.

[via UniversityWorldNews.com]