Factors behind being in top five Horizon 2020 recipients

The figures for the amount of funding distributed by Horizon 2020, the European Union’s flagship research programme, up to late July show that, with 43% of funding for 2013-20 distributed, four of the top five recipient institutions are leading United Kingdom universities. But number five is Denmark’s University of Copenhagen.

As of 23 July 2018, a total of €32.5 billion (US$38 billion) has been distributed, with 88,258 projects having received funding.

The four British universities topping the list of highest recipients are the University of Cambridge (€267 million), the University of Oxford (€260 million), University College London (€253 million) and Imperial College London (€178 million).

But just behind Imperial College London comes the University of Copenhagen (UCPH), with €177 million, the best performance from continental Europe and outperforming EPFL in Lausanne, Switzerland; the University of Edinburgh, Scotland; and KU Leuven, Belgium.

Professor Jens Oddershede, chair of the Danish Council for Research and Innovation Policy and former rector of the University of Southern Denmark, hailed the performance as “very impressive”.

“Yes, this is a very impressive performance from UCPH,” he told University World News.

Oddershede said the University of Copenhagen’s success stemmed from three central prioritisations:
  • • A very focused move by the top leaders of the university to get everybody to send in well-formulated and well-qualified project applications.

  • • The economic incentive programme.

  • • A generally highly qualified staff of senior researchers, including a great number of internationally recruited researchers.
The University of Copenhagen has a staff of 21 experts at its research support office, in addition to dedicated Horizon 2020 experts in all faculties and is also participating in a regional Copenhagen EU Office.

Horizon 2020 distributes its funding within three ‘pillars’: societal challenges, technological development (industrial leadership) and excellent science. The University of Copenhagen draws 88% of its funding from Horizon 2020 in the excellent science pillar.

Thomas Bjørnholm, director of research at the Villum Foundation, who was until 18 March the pro-rector for research and innovation at the University of Copenhagen, said in a press release that Copenhagen’s success was due to “Danish investment [in research] over a long time”.

He said the Globalisation Fund 2006-12 agreed upon in parliament across all political parties and allocating 0.5% of gross national product to research, amounting to DKK40 billion (US$6 billion), has been key, but investment from private funds and enterprises has also had a decisive effect.

“There also are shared partnerships between public and private stakeholders that are providing Denmark with a unique possibility of participating in the absolute research front internationally,” Bjørnholm said.

Reward mechanism

One of the University of Copenhagen’s strategies has been to implement a reward mechanism during the Horizon 2020 programme, allocating DKK1 million to projects succeeding in the competition.

To qualify for this reward, the grant of the project must be worth more than €1 million (US$1.2 million), UCPH’s part of the grant must be more than €200,000, UCPH must be coordinator of the project, and the project must have at least two external partners.

Also, 80% of the reward has to be given to the research group or researcher that has won the contract, while 20% can be given to the department.

The bonus is given as a grant, with freedom to use it for co-financing of a PhD scholarship, purchase of equipment, administrative assistance or other research-related expenses.

Among the separate programmes in Horizon 2020, the University of Copenhagen performed best with the Marie Curie individual fellowships, where the university came second only to the University of Oxford in the number of grants received.

One instrument used frequently at the university before a deadline is the arrangement of so called ‘masterclasses’, where selected candidates are invited to participate and have assistance in the writing of the application. One of these masterclasses in the humanities received seven Marie Curie fellowships in one of the application rounds.

The University of Copenhagen is seeking to recruit more students with different nationalities beyond Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish and Icelandic.

Its International Graduate Talent Program is modelled on programmes from United States universities and involves recruiting international and Danish bachelor candidates to a five-year doctoral programme, with a grant of DKK276,000 (US$43,000) for the first two years, rising to DKK400,000 (US$62,500) for the last three years.

It was to expand the number of students recruited from outside the Nordic countries by 18%, from 662 to 728 in 2017.

Strategic concentration 2018-21

In the framework contract with the ministry for 2018-21, presented to the board of the University of Copenhagen in June, it was recorded that the income from the European Union research framework programme had been DKK3.26 million (US$510,000) per week from the start in January 2014 to March 2018.

The board stated that it would maintain a special focus on the EU framework programme for research and innovation and that it would keep the strong position within the ‘excellent science’ pillar of the programme and expand its income from the ‘industrial leadership’ and ‘societal challenges’ pillars, where it feels there is “untapped potential”.