Grants for 25,000 young researchers under Horizon 2020

From 2014-20, 25,000 young researchers will receive grants from the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions programme, which has a budget of €4.7 billion (US$6.2 billion). This follows the reaching of an agreement during the European summer on the European Commission’s 8th Research Framework Programme within its Horizon 2020 initiative.

Horizon 2020 is the financial instrument implementing the Innovation Union, a Europe 2020 flagship initiative aimed at securing Europe’s global competitiveness. Within Horizon 2020, Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions is a dedicated European Union (EU) programme for researchers’ skills development, with industry participation being mandatory in most sub-programmes.

The choice of name for the programme emphasises innovation, and the change of title from Marie Curie Actions to the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions, or MSCA, programme honours the Nobel-prize winning physicist’s Polish heritage.

Significant achievements

The achievements of the past Framework Programmes (FPs) in Horizon 2020 have been significant, with 60,000 researchers of 130 different nationalities having received support and training since 1996.

More than half of the research supported through framework programmes has been in the fields of health, climate change and energy.

Around 37% of the participants have been women, and the programme has purposely included small- and medium-sized enterprises, since the labour market for doctoral candidates is likely to shift towards the private sector in future.

In past years, the Marie Curie Actions part of the 7th Framework Programme, or FP7, has awarded research grants in several categories – for example, Initial Training Networks, reintegration grants, and industrial doctorates – and the interest has been intense.

The Marie Curie part of the FP has been oversubscribed in terms of number of applications. The most popular part of Marie Curie Actions in FP7 was the Initial Training Networks, where more than 5,000 consortia filed applications during the five rounds of calls from 2007-12. The success rate was close to 10%, with the initiative supporting almost 500 consortia and financing more than 10,000 PhDs.

Marie Curie Actions host institutions have been supported in more than 80 countries and 46% of the researchers that have come to Europe from industrialised countries have stayed in Europe at the end of their fellowships.

The 2013 Marie Curie call for individual fellowships, which closed this August, received a 33% increase in the number of submissions compared to 2012, with 7,117 proposals submitted in the three sub-programmes.

Evaluations are ongoing and the results are expected to be announced by the end of November, with an estimated success rate of about 12%, or some 850 research grants.

New elements

New elements in FP7 were that Western Balkan countries were included, that the business-academia staff exchange collaboration was further strengthened, that industrial doctorates were included in Marie Curie Actions in 2012, that joint degrees between institutions were further promoted and that the strengthening of transferable skills in addition to academic training was further encouraged in order to be relevant to both public and private sectors.

Horizon 2020 is now emphasising even stronger links between education, research and innovation, with this knowledge triangle being seen as a cornerstone.

It is now expected that business will be integrated into the research part of the doctoral training. The shallow business participation acceptable in the past will no longer be sufficient; for example, doctoral students merely being observers in the organisational setups of the consortia bidding for contracts.

The requirement for business and industry representatives to take equal responsibility for the research training has previously been applied – in the evaluation criteria for the applications for Initial Training Networks in FP7.

The objective was “to open and foster dynamic pathways between public research organisations and private research institutions” and “to reinforce the extra-European dimension of the European Research Area through mobility, training, knowledge transfer and [research] cooperation”.

The agenda for Horizon 2020, with calls for proposals expected to be published in December, urges synergy between MSCA and the other parts of Horizon 2020 – the Excellent Science initiative, focus on societal challenges, industrial doctorates and the European Institute of Technology.

There are also plans to promote synergy with the Erasmus+ programme and possibly also with the huge EU structural funding requested by the European parliament.

The European Institute of Technology-supported Knowledge and Innovation Communities (KIC) networks, which are based on the knowledge triangle, will receive a €2.8 billion (US$3.71 billion) tranche from Horizon 2020.

This will allow for two new KIC networks to be developed in 2014 and another two in 2018. The themes of these huge networks have now been selected and consortia are being constructed, as reported previously by University World News.

Industrial doctorates will be further strengthened in Horizon 2020 in future and are now being established in several countries, including the UK, The Netherlands, Sweden and Norway, in addition to Denmark, which has served as a pilot programme.

In August, the European Commission awarded the 50th industrial Marie Curie grant of €1.5 million (US$1.99 million) to a collaboration between the University of Birmingham and SomantiX, a Dutch biotech company based in Utrecht, also involving ETH-Zurich.

Horizon 2020 has several mechanisms to encourage national research organisations to align their budgets with the priorities of the programme.


Per Magnus Kommandantvold, advisor at the Research Council of Norway and Mobility National Contact Point, told University World News:

“The Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions came out as one of the few parts of Horizon 2020 to be a budget winner in the trilogue between the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council this summer.

“This, in addition to increased use of the Cofund – co-funding of regional, national and international programmes – mechanism, the popular European industrial doctorate and training networks, will ensure that many researchers will embark on or stay in the research career path during the next seven years to come.”