European Research Council (ERC) is considered the flagship of European research funding. To date, ERC has supported almost 10 000 breakthrough scientific projects and ERC grantees have won prestigious prizes, including 7 Nobel Prizes, 4 Fields Medals and 5 Wolf Prizes. It is great news that the key features to which the ERC owes its uniqueness will remain unchanged even during forthcoming framework program Horizon Europe. These features are:
(1) OPENNESS: ERC focuses on frontier research across all fields and supports talented scientists of any nationality. ERC uses investigator-driven bottom-up approach, with no predefined thematic priorities.
(2) SINGLE EVALUATION CRITERION: The sole evaluation criterion is scientific excellence, which is independent of any political, geographic or economic considerations. ERC is a rare example of funding body where granting decision resists the lobbying efforts to base decision on other evaluation criteria apart of peer-reviewed excellence.
(3) IMPACT ON SCIENCE: ERC funds creative individuals who identify high-risk, high-reward challenges and demonstrate a great potential to revolutionise science with new significant advances of knowledge.
The approval of Horizon Europe’s final budget, and hence the ERC budget, was accompanied by a number of turbulent changes. Finally, the Horizon Europe budget of 95.5 billion EUR has been agreed this week. Since ERC was established by European Commission in 2007 its budget rose from 7,5 billion EUR for period 2007-2013 under FP7 to current 13 billion EUR for period 2014-2020 under H2020. As for the forthcoming period 2021-2027 the available reports speculate that in Horizon Europe, the ERC receives about 16 billion Euro in current prices. It means that the ERC’s budget will increase compared to last years, unfortunately not to the level initially expected (at least 19 billion EUR).
The organizational structure of the ERC will remain. The ERC Scientific Council, composed of 22 distinguished scientists and scholars representing the European scientific community, is the independent governing body of the ERC. Its main role is setting the ERC strategy and selecting the peer review evaluators. In 2021, five new members will join the Scientific Council. Prof. Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, who is the fourth and at the same time the sixth President of the Scientific Council in the history of ERC temporarily returned to this post when his successor Prof. Mauro Ferrari resigned in April 2020. The ERC Executive Agency (ERCEA) will continue to implement the ERC strategy and be in charge of day-to-day grant administration.
Timing of opening and closing of the forthcoming calls is changed. The deadline for submission of ERC Starting is foreseen to be on 9th March 2021 and the deadline for submission of ERC Consolidator grant is expected to be on 20th April 2021. However, possible delays for these early calls has been announced recently due to the late adoption of the EU Budget 2021-2027 and the Horizon Europe programme. Any shifts in the timetable of these calls should not affect the eligibility periods of candidates applying for ERC Starting and Consolidator Grants. These eligibility periods are based on the time elapsed between the date of the first PhD of the applicant and the 1st of January of the budget year to which the Work Programme refers. The call for ERC Advanced grants is expected to be open and closed as usual with deadline for proposal submission on 31st August 2021. ERC Synergy and Proof of Concept grants will not be open in 2021 due to the delay during transition to Horizon Europe. Both of these grant schemes should reappear in the work program in 2022.
Early this year, ERC Scientific Council revised the evaluation panel structure to reflect evolving nature of scientific disciplines, to maintain the balance between panels in terms of the number of proposals assessed in each call, and to maintain the disciplinary coherence within and across panels. As a result, several changes have been introduced to the structure of the ERC evaluation panels within Horizon Europe. Final list of the evaluation panels for ERC calls 2021 and 2022 is already available here. One additional panel has been included in the domain Physical Sciences and Engineering (PE11 – Materials Engineering) and in the domain Social Sciences and Humanities (SH7 – Human Mobility, Environment and Space). Other changes include an update of panel subtitles and descriptors in both above mention domains and redefinition of former panels and enrichment of descriptors in the Life Sciences domain. Grant evaluation experts for the first Horizon Europe calls will be same as in the Horizon 2020. The new Horizon Europe expert contracts are expected by the end of the year 2021.
Newly, applicants for ERC Advanced grant who succeed in Step 1 of the evaluation will be invited for an interview in Step 2. In this way, the Scientific Council aims to give applicants chance to defend their projects personally in front of the evaluation panel and to align the ERC Advanced Grant evaluation process with the processes used for the Starting and Consolidator Grant.
In Sciotheca we offer full support with preparation of competitive ERC grants. Our consultants have scientific backgrounds and experiences with grant writing, reviewing and management. If you have any questions do not hesitate to contact us, we will be honoured to help you with your ERC proposal.