Wednesday, 3 July 2013

H2020: Where We're at

Going to a European research funding conference before the beginning of a new Framework Programme is a little like doing a jigsaw with no idea of the picture you're trying to piece together.

Each session gives you a few more pieces, and sometimes you pick up some extra pieces in the coffee breaks in between. You treasure these and hoard them, trying to work out their significance. When you have time you try to join them together and gasp in delight when two pieces join to reveal - some non-descript sky.

By the end you are, on the whole, wiser than when you started. You have got most of the basic picture pieced together, though there are always some key sections missing, and you're slightly neurotic that everyone else has those pieces and they're just not sharing them with you.

EARMA2013 has been no exception. At the end of the first day I feel I've got a sketchy understanding of what we're in for with Horizon 2020, but there's still plenty in the middle of the picture that's missing. I thought it would be useful to summarise where we're at with H2020.

The Structure

The basic structure of H2020 has remained essentially unaltered from the one that was first proposed by the Commission almost two years ago . The sense I get is that both the Council and the Parliament recognised it's logic and took the 'if it ain't broke' route. I outlined it in more detail here, but in summary there will be three essential elements - excellent science (i.e. responsive mode funding for 'basic' research, such as Marie Curie, the ERC, and the Future and Emerging Technologies scheme), the societal challenges (similar to FP7's Cooperation, but with more emphasis on the potential of research to solve society's ills) and industrial leadership (i.e. the enterprise and innovation funding).

The Budget

After late night negotiations last week the EC, Parliament and Council came to an agreement over the budget. H2020 got 70.2bn Euros, or 68.7bn Euros if you exclude Euratom. It's intended that small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) will get 20% of this.
It's less than the hoped for 80bn Euros, but its an outcome, a result, and you can almost hear the collective sigh of relief that an agreement has reached and we can move on to the drafting of the detail. Draft work programmes are already beginning to emerge, and we should have more solid detail in September/October.
The three pillars will divide the budget like this:

  • Excellent science: 32%, or 22bn Euros;
  • Societal challenges: 39%, or 27bn Euros;
  • Industrial leadership: 22%, or 16bn Euros.
The shortfall is made up with schemes that don't involve research, such as Science in Society, is the EC's own in-house research (the JRC), or the EIT.

Rules for Participation

This is where things get more interesting. As always with a new Framework Programme, there's talk of simplification, but this time it seems to be justified. There is an intention to have a single document for each call, not the previous smorgsbord of annexes and additional documents. Thus, it will probably be like a home insurance policy, with an all inclusive document and a covering statement telling you which parts refer to you.
Better still there will be no time sheets for researchers working full time on a European project. The EC is also in the process of drafting a simplified Consortium Agreement, and intends to allow a 'broader acceptance' of each participants accounting rules for direct costs.
Yeah, right. We've got to give the Court of Auditors something to keep them busy, surely?

Reimbursement Rates

Reimbursement rates - i.e. the amount of funding you'll actually get - have been set at a 'simplified' 100% for the direct costs of all participants, and 25% for indirect costs. That's certainly simpler than than the complex algorithms which have characterised previous FPs.
However, there are some caveats. Projects that are 'close to market' may only get 70% funding for commercial partners, and there's talk of a 8k  Euro 'bonus' that projects can seek for non-profit partners.
In addition VAT will be an allowable expense.

Time to Grant

Most heartening of all, the EC is going to try to cut the 'time to grant' (i.e.negotiation time between being told you've got a grant and it actually being awarded) from the current 1+ year to 8 months. Uh-huh. Is that even possible? The EC certain hopes so. Two possible solutions 'being talked about in the canteen' are a tougher 'take it or leave' it line on negotiations, and asking reviewers to consider the project as a whole, rather than allowing them to favour the projects that excite them in principle, and leaving it up to EC officers to try and work out how to make it work in practice.

New Innovation Measures

Whilst many elements of H2020 will be a continuation of FP7, albeit reconfigured, the EC does intend to introduce additional funding to support innovation. This may include prizes, including inducement to commercial organisations to take part, and a 'fast track to innovation' scheme, which would have a rolling deadline, and would offer up to 3m euros for no more than 5 partners.

Open Access

The EC ran a pilot on OA during FP7. It is believed they are happy with the results, and want to roll it out throughout H2020. The costs of doing so - i.e. funding for article processing charges (APCs) can be included in a project, but will have to be included in the orginal budget. So bear that in mind when you come to us for your costing.


  1. Thanks for this, Phil. Very succinct and in plain English as usual. I've been thinking about creating an FP7 vs Horizon 2020 "feature comparison" table for a while. This article provides a useful starting point.

    1. Thanks David. I think a comparison table's a great idea. Would you be willing to share it when you're done?

    2. Of course, I'll blog it. And now that I've told you I'm going to do it, that will provide me with the impetus to actually go and do it...

    3. Excellent! I'll look forward to it.