Extra cash for ERC reserve list

European states are to offer funding to research finalists, but not the UK. Zoe Corbyn reports

April 10, 2008

Top young European researchers who narrowly missed out on European Research Council grants are to receive support from their home countries instead.

France, Italy, Switzerland and Spain have launched national initiatives offering financial support to finalists of the first ERC "starting grant" competition whose proposals cannot be funded by the ERC because of budgetary limits. The UK will not follow suit.

The move is a vote of confidence for the ERC, the new flagship agency set up as part of the EU's seventh framework research programme aiming to fund the best research across Europe regardless of nationality. It could also set a precedent for other ERC funding announcements.

Fotis Kafatos, the president of the ERC and professor at Imperial College London, said: "The ERC is pleased with this clear support of the ERC's funding strategy for the next generation of researcher leaders. It is an acknowledgement of the intrinsic quality of the ERC's peer review evaluation mechanisms ... It also demonstrates the commitment of European funding bodies, including the ERC and national actors, to work together towards the common objective of making European research the best in the world."

The ERC has staked much on the success of its first task, to award grants of between EUR500,000 (£395,000) and EUR2 million over five years to the finest of Europe's early-career researchers to pursue their blue-skies research projects.

The money in the pot for the first call allows funding for about 300 proposals only. From 9,000 hopefuls, 430 made the grade. It is the 130 or so "reserve" candidates that national funders are now moving to rescue. In the case of the UK, 41 young researchers have so far been guaranteed funding. Another 36 are on the ranked reserve list, of whom 16 are likely to receive funding.

Another ERC call for young researchers is due to be announced in summer.

A spokesman for the UK's seven research councils said: "We have no plan to prioritise funding for applicants who passed the ERC quality threshold but who were unsuccessful in receiving funding ... such an arrangement would discriminate against applicants who had not applied to the ERC and would thus run counter to the council's policy of funding on criteria of excellence."

The ERC is also currently in the middle of the first call of its second grants stream, for advanced-career researchers, worth about EUR517 million.

zoe.corbyn@tsleducation.com.

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