Monday, 25 May 2015

H2020: Year One Report Card

Horizon 2020, the European Commission’s main programme for distributing research funding across Europe, has now been running for a little over a year, so it seems like a good time to check in on how things are going so far. 

We have already had 79 calls, and researchers across Europe have responded by submitting 25,903 proposals, asking for some €41bn. Around 14.5% of these have been successful (3,765), totalling €6.6bn. That’s around 8.5% of the total H2020 budget of €70bn for the seven year programme.

Success rates have generally been up very slightly for the European Research Council, compared with H2020’s predecessor, FP7: around 13% compared with 12%. However, they’re down noticeably in the ‘societal challenges’ (or former ‘thematic priorities’’) areas: 14% compared with 21%.

The UK has continued to do well compared to others in Europe. It is second only to Germany in the amount of funding it has secured (€526m, compared to Germany’s €852m), but top in the number of ‘participations’ (i.e. the number of people who have received funding): 1,406. Germany had 1,313, Spain 1,118, Italy 937, and France 906.

Drilling down into the detail of the schemes, the UK once again shares the accolades with Germany in the ERC Starting Grants, getting 67 in the first call, compared to Germany’s 69, and some way ahead of the next countries in the lineup: France (49), the Netherlands (40) and Italy (28). Similarly, for Marie Sklowdowska Curie ITNs, Germany had 175 and the UK 160, with the Netherlands leading the chasing peloton with 112.

The Commission has received some anecdotal feedback on how things have gone in the first year. Generally, applicants have ‘valued’ the participant portal, but have said that the Work Programme needs to be more visible. In addition, they have complained about delays in handling questions and proving information to National Contact Points (NCPs) and applicants. 

The research community has welcomed the move to a ‘challenge-based’ approach in H2020 (compared to the more prescriptive framework used under FP7), and it seems to have had some effect on attracting newcomers and industry. There is evidence, however, that this has led to oversubscription (8x the available budget, compared to 5% in FP7), but this hides a diverse picture. Indeed, for applications that get above the threshold, the success rates are more like 33%, not those quoted above. 

In terms of the evaluation process, the overall quality is good, although there have been some concerns regarding the interpretation of criteria and understanding of new concepts (such as ‘innovation management’). There is a clear lack of expertise or balance in some areas (such as gender balance, or experts in innovation and business planning), and the quality/depth of feedback varies hugely. 

Looking forward, we’re gearing up for the Work Programme 2016-17 which should be available in September. Draft versions are doing the rounds, so if you’re planning on applying, do get in touch with us to have a look at these.

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