Europe’s ‘ERC goes global’ campaign heads to antipodes

In the latest instalment of its ‘ERC goes global’ awareness campaign, the European Research Council has sent a delegation to New Zealand and Australia to inform top researchers there of grants it is prepared to award.

The global awareness-raising project was launched in Canada in March last year with subsequent visits by ERC delegations in 2012 to the US and Mexico, South America, Russia, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea, South Africa and Ireland.

This year, the ERC team has visited India, China and now the antipodes.

The campaign is taking council Secretary General Professor Donald Dingwell, as the leader of the delegations, to universities and institutes around the globe. The antipodean trip started last Tuesday when the ERC visitors travelled to Wellington and Auckland in New Zealand.

The tour then moved to Australia where the delegation will remain until 11 October, visiting each of the capital cities, other than Darwin, and meeting officials in government, research groups and higher education.

Dingwell told University World News that the council representatives were “keen to meet our counterparts here and to let the country's top talent know about the attractive funding that the ERC offers.

“It is our hope that researchers here will respond to this great opportunity for us all,” he said.

Since 2007, when the ERC was founded, 21 researchers in Australia and six in New Zealand have been awarded ERC grants. Dingwell said the council hoped to increase this number through the awareness-raising campaign.

“ERC grants are both substantial and highly flexible, and allow grant holders to spend half of their research time outside the European Union and its FP7 associated countries.* This provides the possibility for grant holders to maintain an affiliation with their country of origin, if they so wish.”

He said the council grants backed leading researchers from anywhere in the world, along with their innovative ideas and across all disciplines. Up to €3.5 million (US$4.8 million) can be allocated per grant.

The ERC scheme

Since its launch in 2007, the council has awarded €6.3 billion to more than 3,800 scientists, including early-career and senior researchers, who have been performing ‘frontier research’ in universities and institutes across Europe. But applications for grants are highly competitive and the average success rate is only about one in eight.

Dingwell is accompanied on the antipodean trip by an Australian ERC grantee, Dr Gemma Solomon, who was awarded a starting grant in 2010 in the field of physical engineering. She conducts her research at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark.

Established by the European Union (EU), the ERC has the goal of stimulating scientific excellence in Europe by encouraging competition for funding between “the very best, creative researchers of any nationality and age”.

As part of the EU's Seventh Research Framework Programme, or FP7, the ERC had a total budget of €7.5 billion allocated from 2007 to 2013. This will increase by 70% under the new framework programme Horizon 2020, which will run from 2014 to 2020.

In a note on its activities, the council says it has adopted an “investigator-driven, bottom-up approach” which allows researchers to identify new opportunities in any field of research. It claims to have become a ‘benchmark’ of the competitiveness of national research systems as it complements existing funding schemes at national and European levels.

It points to the possibilities for start-up funding for scientists moving to Europe with a €500,000 grant for researchers starting their careers and €1 million for ‘advanced grantees’.

Under the global scheme, those awarded grants can keep their affiliation with their home institutes outside Europe although a significant part of the research has to take place on that continent. Team members, however, can be based outside Europe.

The council says several European countries and host institutes assist applicants and reward grantees with top-up funds or long-term professorships. In the first four years of the scheme, 75 US researchers received grants, followed by Australia with 16, Russia and Canada with 12 each, Japan eight, India seven, Argentina and China with four each and Brazil with one.

The council itself is composed of an executive agency and a scientific council that sets the strategy and comprises 22 top scientists and scholars. The ERC is led by its president, Professor Helga Nowotny, while the council is represented in Brussels by Dingwell, whose term as secretary general ends in December.

* The EU's FP7 associate countries are Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Faroe Islands, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Iceland, Israel, Liechtenstein, Moldova, Montenegro, Norway, Serbia, Switzerland and Turkey.

* Click here to read an article on the ERA's trip to Australia, published by The Conversation.