UK research loses more ground to Germany on ERC funding

British researchers no longer win the most grants for established scientists, having already fallen behind in early career category

April 7, 2017

The UK no longer secures the most research grants for established scientists from the European Research Council, new data reveal.

In 2016, researchers in the UK secured 41 advanced grants, typically given to senior researchers with a track record of excellence, compared with those in Germany who secured 45, according to data published by the ERC on 7 April.

The UK's haul is down significantly on 2015, when its researchers won 69 advanced grants compared with Germany’s 43.

It is the second blow in short succession for the UK science base, coming after Times Higher Education analysis showed that Germany had just pipped the UK to the post to secure the most grants under the ERC's early career funding scheme.

Since the start of the current European Commission research programme, Horizon 2020, the UK had been the strongest country in Europe in terms of securing both early career and advanced grants from the ERC.

The ERC data show that, across Europe, scientists made 2,400 applications to the €540 million (£462 million) scheme in 2016. The ERC awarded 231 grants to researchers in 28 countries, giving a success rate of 9.6 per cent. This is down on 2015 when the success rate was 14.2 per cent, as the number of applications was about 450 lower.

The pressure on European research funding has come under scrutiny in recent months as squeezes on national research budgets have pushed more scientists to apply for the programme.

The true costs of falling success rates in Europe have recently been estimated in the billions as the time academics spend writing unfunded grant proposals is wasted and experts have warned that the low success rates may put off the best researchers from applying.

“Unfortunately, with the 2016 ERC budget it was only possible to fund 9.6 per cent of applicants," said Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, president of the ERC. "In the coming years, let us hope that the planned growth of the ERC budget will match the wealth of talent and ideas that Europe hosts and attracts."

Switzerland and France also did well out of the fund in 2016, winning 25 and 23 grants, respectively.

holly.else@timeshighereducation.com

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