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I’ll see your £200m and raise you five billion

November 30, 2011

Wow. On the heels of Chancellor George Osborne’s announcement of an additional £200m in science funding comes an even more astonishing proposed boost for science – the European Commission has proposed a 77 per cent increase in funding for the European Research Council, which provides grants for scientific collaborations amongst EU members:

The proposal for Framework 7’s successor includes three components, the priorities for which will be determined by scientists, industry and policy-makers, respectively, a Commission official said.

Under this proposal, Horizon 2020 would spend €24.6bn on “excellent science”. This includes €13.2bn for the European Research Council—a whopping 77 per cent increase on the previous period—and about €5.7bn for the Marie Curie programme for the mobility of researchers (a 21-per-cent increase).

A further €17.9bn would go to “industrial leadership”, including €13.7bn to develop areas such as biotechnology, nanotechnology and space technologies; €3.5bn to improve access to risk finance; and €619 million for innovative SMEs.

The boost is a recognition of the growing stature of the ERC, says Research Blogs’ Inga Vesper:

Over the past years the ERC has carved out a role for itself from what some viewed as a second class funding agency that financed those too bad for national money to a world-class, top-of-the-range institution that is overwhelmed with applications every time it opens a new call.

Part of the reason for giving it such a large boost, she suggests, is so that the overall omnibus it’s part of will be harder for parliamentarians to turn down, given the ERC’s stature.

All in all, it’s amazing news for science, and unexpected, with the current worries plaguing the Euro zone. The plan could of course still fall to pieces – it goes next to the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers, who don’t plan to have a final decision until the end of 2013.

Enough time, then, to make some friends in your discipline abroad and get your piece of the pie…

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 1, 2011 12:48 pm

    This is good news for science (though it would be nice to have more debate about why the EU emphasis has been shifting so profoundly towards responsive mode type funding of ‘excellent’ research and whether that is the appropriate balance – I’m not necessarily saying it isn’t, but the debate has been very poor and the arguments advanced on either side have looked more like special interest pleading than reasoned or evidence-based debate).

    It’s important not to get carried away with all this (the £200 million vs £5bn comparison, whilst making for a neat headline, is a little misleading). We should remember that EU funding for research (and development) accounts for only a few per cent of the total spent on R&D in the EU-27. The overwhelming majority is accounted for by national governments and private firms.

  2. December 5, 2011 8:47 pm

    Thank you – both are good points.

    On the first, isn’t the “excellent science” requirement similar to what we’re already seeing in UK science, ie, the “impact” requirement in the REF and in EPSRC’s new grant requirements? I agree that the EU shift should be discussed, but at least in the UK there seems to be lots of discussion and debate on the topic, engendered by the EPSRC’s new rules. And in initially making the mistake of sidestepping the dialogue, EPSRC will surely be a model of what “not” to do if the other Research Councils venture into similar waters.

    And second, you’re very right to point out that £5bn is not much in comparison to the overall science budget of the EU countries. However it is rather surprising given the economic state of the EU, and the trend in most Western countries to freeze or reduce science spending. And surely it matters disproportionately to the UK, with its strong research base – a pot of money 3 times what the UK government has for science must be leading some scientists to consider a shift in their funding strategy looking forward, no?

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