One in five projects funded by the European Research Council in the past decade has led to a major scientific breakthrough, a study suggests.
An ERC-commissioned peer review evaluation of a sample of 199 projects funded by the council since 2007, which looked at publications, patents and commercial applications, judged that 43 (21.6 per cent) had resulted in a significant breakthrough.
A further 99 (49.7 per cent) were thought to have resulted in a “major scientific advance”.
Fifty projects (25.1 per cent) made an “incremental scientific contribution” – a result that the review says could still lead to more substantial impact in the longer term – while seven (3.5 per cent) were found to have resulted in “no appreciable scientific contribution”.
The review also considered the impact that ERC-funded projects had had on the economy, society and policymaking, and judged that just under 10 per cent had already had a large impact, and nearly half had made at least some impression, with more significant results expected to emerge in the longer term.
The study, launched at the EuroScience Open Forum in Manchester, cautions that the results “cannot necessarily be extrapolated to the full set of ERC-funded projects”.
But Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, president of the ERC, described the results as “very instructive”.
“This pilot study shows that betting on ambitious high-risk/high-gain frontier research, by means of peer review, truly pays off,” Professor Bourguignon said. “This is crucial for Europe, especially as not only the scientific impact but also the economic and societal benefits are clearly major.”
The ERC has funded about 6,000 projects since it was founded in 2007, more than 500 of which had concluded by the end of 2014.
UK-based academics have traditionally been the biggest winners from the scheme, securing 23.7 per cent of grants awarded in 2014.
The ERC has a budget of more than €13 billion (£11 billion) for the years 2014 to 2020, and announced its 2017 grant competition, valued at €1.8 billion, on 25 July.
But the UK’s future participation in the scheme remains in doubt after the country’s vote to leave the European Union.