The best starting and up-coming researchers who are in the stage of establishing or consolidating their research team or programme have the opportunity to compete at European level for attractive ERC funding and – if successful – shall set the ground for taking off with an independent research career in Europe.
Research proposals for ERC Starting Grant can cover any field of science and technology, including the social sciences and humanities, and need to be lead by a single starting researcher who is working in or moving to work in Europe, regardless of her/his nationality, and may involve additional team members.
Two targeted grant schemes
Two types of ERC grants will be available. These funding streams, operating on a “bottom-up” basis without predetermined priorities and across all research fields, are expected to be the core of the ERC’s operations during the EU’s Seventh Research Framework Programme (2007-2013).
First, the Starting Independent Researcher Grants or ‘ERC Starting Grants’ will provide support to the independent careers of excellent researchers, whatever their nationality, located in or moving to the EU and associated countries, who are at the stage of establishing or consolidating their research team or program.
European research often lacks opportunities for young investigators to develop independent careers and make the transition from working under a supervisor to being independent research leaders in their own right. This structural problem leads to a dramatic waste of research talent. It limits the emergence of the next-generation of researcher leaders and encourages talented researchers at an early stage of their career to seek advancement elsewhere, either in other professions or as researchers outside Europe. While Europe has made small scale efforts to address these problems, the ERC is well placed to develop a broad, international and consistent scheme on a scale large enough to make a difference.
ERC Starting Grants will amount €100,000 and €400,000 per year for a period of up to 5 years. The level of grant will be determined by the nature of the project and team, based on an evaluation by a panel of peers. With a budget of approximately one-third of the ERC’s annual budget, it is estimated that around 200 Starting Grants could be made annually. The ERC Starting Grant stands to make a substantial effect on Europe’s research culture and the vitality of its research institutions and universities.
The second ERC Grant, the Advanced Investigator Grants or ‘ERC Advanced Grants’ will support excellent research projects lead by established top research leaders, working in or moving to work in Europe, whatever their nationality. ERC Advanced Grants will complement the Starting Grant scheme by targeting researchers who have already established themselves as independent research leaders.
The ERC’s funding will increase substantially over the period 2007-2013. The first call (€ 300 Mio.) – open now with deadline on 25 April 2007 – focuses on research proposals only for Starting Grants. The Advanced Grant will be introduced in the second call (€ 550 Mio.) for proposals in the second half of 2007. From 2008 annual calls (approx. € 1 billion per year) will be held for both ERC Starting and Advanced Grants. As the portfolio of funded projects builds up, the Scientific Council will evaluate achievements, hone mechanisms and procedures, and elaborate the strategy as appropriate.
Helping Europe live up to its potential
Given its tradition of scientific excellence and abundance of scientific talent, Europe should be leading the world in pioneering research. The European Union’s recent expansion has given it with one of the world’s largest pools of highly educated people. However Europe has not only lost its leadership position in many areas of science to the US, it is also in danger of being outgunned by the rising giants of Asia – India and China.
It is recognised that developments in research and scientific understanding are what drive forward developments in society and economy. Thus, countries with leading edge research in new and fast emerging areas are not only best positioned to advance their quality of life and their positions in the world, but also best able to establish leading edge industries and generate intellectual assets with long term returns.
With this in mind, the creation of a European Research Council is a prominent feature of the EU’s Seventh Framework Programme for Research (FP7), which runs from 2007 to 2013. In fact, the ERC implements FP7’s €7.5 billion ‘Ideas’ programme.
The ERC is based on the concept that researchers themselves are best placed to identify the new opportunities and promising directions at the forefront of knowledge – opportunities and directions that may pave the way to the industries, markets, and social innovations of the future as several scientific innovations in the past have proven, such as the internet which arose from the need for fast transfers and exchanges of large sets of scientific data between different labs in different countries, or the complexity theory-based approaches for the description of social and economic networks or environmental systems which allowed, e.g., to understand, simulate and predict social and economic behaviour, or climate change.
Therefore, the ERC approach is wholly investigator-driven, or “bottom-up”, in nature. Instead of relying on policy-driven themes or thematic priorities, the focus is on supporting the best researchers and ideas in all fields by funding individual teams in open competition at pan- European level, solely on the basis of scientific excellence as selection criterion.
By challenging the most original minds to develop breakthroughs at the frontiers of science, the ERC may enable those unpredictable discoveries that can change the course of human understanding, thus opening up new avenues for technological progress and solving enduring social and environmental
New realities require new thinking
The ERC is a new approach to science for Europe – in what it aims to achieve as well as how it will achieve it.
First, the ERC will make it possible for top research leaders working in or moving to work in Europe to compete with other top research leaders to win funding in a way that guarantees open competition between the best players, whoever and wherever they are, and regardless of nationality.
Second, the ERC has been established as an autonomous European entity under independent leadership. The ERC is supervised by a Scientific Council composed of 22 high level scientists from various scientific backgrounds. The role of the Scientific Council is to define the funding strategy of the ERC, oversee its operational management, monitor the quality and achievements of the operation, and ensure the transparency of the ERC by communicating its activities and achievements.
What is ‘frontier’ research and what are its benefits?
The need for establishing an ERC structure has been described in terms of the importance of supporting the best ‘basic’ research. However in today’s terms the distinction between ‘basic’ and ‘applied’ research has become blurred, due to the fact that emerging areas of science and technology often cover substantial elements of both. As a result, the term ‘frontier research’ was coined for ERC activities since they will be directed towards fundamental understanding, at the ‘frontier’ of knowledge.
Concretely, the ERC aims to bring about a wide range of benefits. First, by creating open and direct competition for funding between the best researchers in Europe, the ERC will enhance aspirations and achievements. It will enable the best ideas and talents to be recognised from a much larger pool than exists at national level, and thus will raise the overall level of expectation and achievement. The ERC’s competitive funding will also be able to channel funds into the most promising new ideas, with a degree of agility not always possible in national funding schemes.
The ERC should also make Europe more attractive to the best researchers, irrespective of their country of origin. Europe’s record of attracting and retaining the best researchers from around the world is rather weak. Despite producing more scientists and engineers than either the US or Japan, Europe is a net exporter of talented researchers. The ERC will help keep them in Europe by providing them with the resources to develop their full potential.
On the economic side, the ERC will help nurture science-based industry and create a greater impetus for the establishment of research-based spin-offs. From a societal perspective, it could provide a mechanism for investing rapidly in research targeted at new and emerging issues confronting society.
The secret of success
The ERC will offer the long-term support that can provide top research leaders the freedom and flexibility they need to succeed. As a result, it will boost Europe’s research performance by helping to attract and retain the best researchers; stimulating creativity; encouraging risk-taking; promoting discovery and high-impact research.
1st Call for Proposals on ERC Starting Grants
• An excellent scientific track record and proven potential
• A ground breaking research idea
• 2-9 years since completion of PhD
• A research team to be established or consolidated
• Working in or moving to work in an EU Member State, Associated Country, or international European Interest Organisation
Funding per grant: up to € 500,000 – 2,000,000
Duration: up to 5 years
Application: online, 2-stage process
Evaluation criterion: scientific excellence
Submission deadline: 25 April 2007
Call Budget: € 300,000,000
Number of grants: approx. 200
For more information and to apply: http://erc.europa.eu/
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