European research networks win most from Horizon 2020

Interim evaluation highlights challenges facing researchers in Eastern Europe and the Baltic states

June 10, 2017
European Parliament, Strasbourg

An interim evaluation of the European Union’s multibillion-euro Horizon 2020 research funding programme reveals the biggest grant winners so far, and how research is structured very differently across the Continent.

For once, the universities of Oxford and Cambridge are not at the top of the table. The strongest performer is Germany’s Max Planck Society, a network of 89 institutes and facilities that focus on curiosity-driven basic research and received €443 million (£389 million) in funding. The Fraunhofer Society, another big German research network that specialises more in industry-driven applied research, also picked up more than €200 million of funding.

The ranking shows that, in the UK, the top researchers who are capable of winning European money are clustered in universities, but in Germany, France, Spain and Italy, national research networks of institutes dominate.


Organisation or university Country Money won (€million)
Max Planck Society Germany 443.5
French National Center for Scientific Research France 361.4
Fraunhofer Society Germany 223.9
French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission France 218.7
University of Oxford UK 174.5
University of Cambridge UK 172.1
University College London UK 159.1
Imperial College London UK 120
Italian National Research Council Italy 114.2
Spanish National Research Council Spain 110.1
Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne Switzerland 106.6
Delft University of Technology Netherlands 104.7
KU Leuven Belgium 104.2
University of Copenhagen Denmark 101.8
University of Edinburgh UK 100.7

Source: European Commission

Even though the evaluation, released at the beginning of June by the European Commission, concluded that Horizon 2020 was working well – although it needs more money to prevent so many good applications going unfunded – there are some figures buried in the detail that may cause concern.

Despite an upsurge of interest in open access, only 61 per cent of peer-reviewed papers funded by Horizon 2020 were published in open access journals, a percentage point down on the previous framework programme, which ran from 2007 to 2013.

The data also appear to conform to one common criticism: that European funding goes to researchers in countries with developed science systems but that it is hard to win for scholars in Eastern Europe and the Baltic states, and so exacerbates existing inequalities across the Continent.

Rich Western and Central European countries including Austria, Belgium, France and the Netherlands enjoyed application success rates of more than 16 per cent. This compares with much lower success rates in newer EU states such as Bulgaria (9 per cent), Hungary (10.4 per cent), Poland (11 per cent) and Latvia (11 per cent).

Intense competition for funding means that applications from EU-13 countries – generally poorer, newer members of the union – are successful just 11.1 per cent of the time, compared with an average of 14.1 per cent. This is a slightly wider gap than in 2007-13, when their success rate was 18 per cent, versus an average of 21.8 per cent.

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