UK ERC grantees inundated with offers as two-month deadline nears

Researchers on tight deadline to decide whether to jump ship or accept replacement funding guarantee

四月 14, 2022
ERC president Maria Leptin as illustrated in the article
Source: ERC

UK-based holders of European Research Council (ERC) funding say they have been inundated by approaches from continental universities after being given a two-month ultimatum to move to an eligible institution or face losing the grant.

Around 150 UK-based academics who were awarded starting, consolidator and advanced grants were contacted by the ERC on 8 April, informing them that they were being “granted the possibility to ensure the eligibility of their proposal by transferring it to a new, eligible legal entity”.

The letter adds that “if we do not hear from you within two months of receiving this letter…you will be considered to have declined this possibility, which will result in the rejection of your proposal” but notes it will extend the deadline in “exceptional, justified cases”.

ERC president Maria Leptin tweeted that “no one here wishes to entice anyone to leave”, but researchers are now thought to be weighing up whether to move their projects to keep hold of the prestigious funding or accept the UK’s guarantee to provide replacement funding from domestic budgets.  

The UK still appears no closer to associating to Horizon Europe, with the deadlock caused by Brexit wrangling over the Northern Ireland protocol now being exacerbated by the war in Ukraine and elections in both the UK and France. 

Thiemo Fetzer, professor of economics at the University of Warwick, said he had been contacted by 10 EU-based institutions in a week since receiving his letter, all offering to host his ERC-funded project, which looks at the frictions between national media agendas and tackling transnational problems such as climate change, political instability and terrorism.

He said he sensed that EU institutions felt there was a window of opportunity to tempt UK-based researchers to move their grants before the projects are fully up and running, something that would be quite easy to do.

Professor Fetzer said he was still open to accepting money that has been promised by UK Research and Innovation as a stop-gap for anyone at risk of losing funding because of the Horizon impasse but added there were a number of uncertainties, including whether he would be able to run a transnational project from the UK and hire staff not currently based in the country, something he said was now “close to impossible”.

“There is no precedent for this grant guarantee being triggered,” he said. “It could work extremely well but not knowing creates uncertainty. It could convert the grant into something that is very inflexible, very tied to the UK’s institutional rules and constraints and so people are rightfully nervous about whether the guarantee will actually deliver a substitute, as close as possible,” Professor Fetzer said.

“I haven’t made up my mind. At this stage I am scouting out offers on the continent to see what could be offered there and also investigating taking all steps to be able to benefit from the guarantee in case no options are suitable. And I think that’s what a lot of people are doing now; it is the prudent thing to do.”

ERC rules state that successful applicants of grant competitions must be based in associated countries at the time their grant agreement is signed, and an ERC spokesman said the letters were an “expected development” as the indicative dates for signing grant agreements are approaching.

He said the ERC must act “in order to be in a position to potentially offer funding to the researchers put initially on the reserve lists, and to have enough time to prepare and sign grants until the end of 2022, which is the legal deadline for this round of funding”.

Another UK-based researcher who received the letter, and wished to remain anonymous, said they were actively considering relocating their grant and were in talks with two other institutions.

They said they were “not surprised but still very emotional” to receive the letter as they had hoped for a resolution in the impasse to come before they had to sign the agreement but this “now seems like an almost impossible outcome”.



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