Tuesday, 31 January 2012

ERC Inundated by Applications for Synergy Grants

Interesting statistics have emerged from the European Research Council regarding the number of applications to the pilot round of the Synergy grants scheme. You will, of course, remember that this was launched in July to encourage academics to group together to be more than the sum of their parts. Like the Beatles. I mean, aside from the Frog Chorus, has Paul McCartney ever done anything that touches his work with John Lennon?

Anyway, as it was a pilot, they were only planning to fund 10 or so grants. However, they obviously touched a raw nerve of need amongst the European research community, because by close of play on 25 January they had received 710 applications. Now I'm no mathematician, but I make that to be a success rate of 1.41%. Eeek!

This brings back the heady days of the first round of the Starting Grants in 2007, when 9167 applicants applied for one of the 299 awards on offer. But even that offered a comparatively respectable 3.26% success rate - more than double the possible outcome for the Synergy Grants.

I'd love to know what's going through the mind of the ERC President Prof Helga Nowotny (whose surname, incidentally, looks a little like a mashup between the acronyms for the News of the World and Have I Got News for You). Panic? Fear? Or pleasure that, once again, the ERC has identified they type of funding that European researchers actually want: responsive mode, and generous.

I hope so. I hope that this experience does not deter the ERC from ever running the scheme again. Rather, I hope they bite the bullet and provide more funding for the scheme. There's obviously a pan-European appetite for such funding. Let's hope they're brave, recognise the demand, and provide the funding to at least push the success rate into double figures.

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