Plenty of research funding on the Horizon
By Will Goodbody, Science & Technology Correspondent
After all the planning, politicking, voting and spinning, this week finally saw the Irish launch of Horizon 2020, and the announcement of details of the first call for funding. The seven- year €79 billion EU science, research and innovation fund is the successor to the previous fund, Framework Programme 7 (FP7). For many scientists across Europe and beyond (because it is open to researchers in other countries) it will be their bread and butter for the foreseeable future – valuable funding which they might not otherwise get access to at national level.
So what’s new under Horizon 2020?
Well the size of it for one. The amount of money available is 30% gerater than FP7, making it a very large pot indeed.
In response to severe criticism of the early stages of FP7, the application system for Horizon 2020 has been streamlined too. There will be one online system for applying, running the project and reporting on it. Welcome news for those sick of getting tied up in red tape.
Another common criticism of FP7 was that it was designed to attract experienced world class researchers with a track record as Principal Investigators (PI), not young emerging scientists who may have a good idea but no paper trail to support their credentials. Horizon 2020, however, is said by its architects to be so big, that there are opportunities for everyone in the audience. Junior researchers, they say, can access funding through programmes like the Marie Sklodowska-Curie fellowships. While there are also plenty of opportunities for the more experienced, right up to the highest level.
There’s also a fresh emphasis on getting small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) involved. 20% of the budget in the industrial technologies and societal challenges pillars is set aside for small companies, considered by many to be the engine room of the domestic economy. Administrative changes, it is claimed, should make it easier for SMEs to participate.
While in the Research and Development space, there are changes which should make it much more attractive for larger companies to invest in Horizon 2020 backed projects – particularly pharmaceutical firms who traditionally have been at time reluctant to get involved in such collaboration.
And for those involved in the social sciences, there is good news also. The societal challenges pillar provides them with a fresh opportunity to get involved in research funded by Horizon 2020, in areas like transport and energy for example. Indeed it’s understood that those running the programmes will be expecting the involvement of social scientists in applications for such projects.
The government here has stated that its aim is that Irish based research teams will draw down a minimum of €1.25bn of funding from Horizon 2020, over the course of its life. That’s the equivalent of €3m a week coming into the country, if the aspiration is delivered on. To achieve that target, however, the EU Commissioner for Research, Maire Geoghegan-Quinn, says Irish scientists will need to up their game. The competition for funding will be wide and fierce. Our rate of successful applications under FP7, at 22%, was above the EU average. But even that will have to improve to 30+% if the ambition is to be realised. That said, the Commissioner and the government here are optimistic Ireland can do well from Horizon 2020. While Enterprise Ireland says it is there to help and support applicants through the process.
In such a small research environment, scientists here are understandably reluctant to come out publicly and pick holes in funding programmes. The only challenging public comments this week coming from the Irish Federation of University Teachers, who said in order to maximise the return from Horizon 2020, the Irish research system needs to do more to widen opportunities for contract researchers, and create a career structure for them. In particular, it said, younger researchers who are the future of science in this country, must be supported.
The first calls are now under way, with more than €15bn promised for the first two years. There’s a particular focus on 12 areas during that period 2014/2015, including personalised healthcare, digital security and smart cities. There will be €3bn for Excellent Science in year one, including €1.7 billion for grants from the European Research Council for top scientists and €800 million for Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellowships for younger researchers. Industrial Leadership projects will receive €1.8 billion, while Societal Challenges €2.8 billion.
The first deadlines are the 4th of March 2014. So while Irish scientists and researchers may be starting to wind down for Christmas, it’s clear that come the New Year, all eyes will be on the Horizon.
Good luck to all!