Action plan to increase ‘pay-off’ from Horizon 2020

The Danish ministry of higher education and science has launched a national action plan to secure increased Danish participation in the European Union research programme Horizon 2020 and the 2021-27 Horizon Europe programme and a higher share of coordinator roles in consortia.

“With this plan we are launching a number of concrete counselling activities and analyses. The plan is to secure a good payback from the Horizon 2020 research programme and, as a small country, to participate in the European research frontline together with the bigger countries in Europe, with regard to research, talent and innovative ideas,” Minister of Higher Education and Science Tommy Ahlers said at the launch in November.

The Danish participation in Horizon 2020 from 2014 until the end of 2017 is the second best measured in payback per inhabitant, with 1,816 Danish participations in 1,336 research projects funded by Horizon 2020, with a total of DKK1.4 billion (US$214 million) each year funded to Danish participants in the programme.

The 19-point action plan is organised in four overarching ambitions:
  • • The quality of Danish applications to Horizon 2020 will be significantly lifted.

  • • More Danes shall participate.

  • • Danes will play a more central role in the consortia as coordinators.

  • • The Danish national coordination of EU public-public partnerships will be strengthened.
The action plan will be coordinated by the Danish Agency for Science and Higher Education (SFU) in the ministry.

The plan contains 19 new initiatives and eight recommendations and is based on two analyses done in 2017 – a mid-way evaluation of Danish participation in Horizon 2020 and a mapping and analysis of Danish participation in the EU public-public partnerships – plus a large number of dialogue meetings with stakeholders in the first half of 2018.

European Research Council and Marie Curie grants

Several measures are proposed to strengthen Danish participation in the European Research Council (ERC) programme and the Marie Sklodowska-Curie actions.

Denmark is currently the fourth-best performer in the ERC programme if measured as payment received per inhabitant, after Switzerland, the Netherlands and Israel.

A special analysis will be undertaken on the Israeli experiences with the ERC, the report says, since the mid-way evaluation of the Horizon 2020 programme found that nine out of the top 10 recipient countries, including Denmark, are receiving on average two to three ERC grants per highly cited researcher, while Israel is receiving 15.

The SFU has therefore asked the Danish innovation attaché in Israel to conduct an analysis of the Israelis’ success in the ERC programme, making recommendations for Danish researchers.

The Marie Sklodowska-Curie mobility programme, and notably the individual grants part hosting young visiting researchers in Denmark and Danes at institutions in the EU, has been a great success for Denmark over the first part of Horizon 2020, bringing Denmark to a leading position in terms of the number of Marie Curie (MC) grants per inhabitant and to number seven measured in amount of funding received.

One of the reasons for this success is that the University of Copenhagen received 163 individual MC grants in Horizon 2020 by mid-way, which has been explained by the university's strategic investment in so-called ‘master classes’ across all faculties, mobilising the participants to apply for individual MC grants during their participation under guidance of scientific staff and administrative experts on the MC programme.

More Danes as coordinators

As of March 2018 Danes had participated in 738 Horizon 2020 collaborative projects, coordinating 15% of these. In particular, in the Marie Curie Initial Training Networks (ITNs), Danish coordination is high (29% of ITNs in which Danish universities were participating), while the coordination in Research and Innovation Actions is lower (11%).

The action plan hence will arrange for a yearly ‘coordinator meeting’, with potential Danish coordinators of Horizon 2020 consortia meeting with Danish coordinators of such consortia to learn from their experiences.

The national action plan contains a timeline for the 19 activities scheduled, many of which are already ongoing, with a high-level meeting with the SFU strategic reference group for Horizon 2020 and the Innovation Fund Denmark's Strategic Advisory Board having been given a special mandate to plan for the transfer of activities from the Horizon 2020 programme to Horizon Europe (2021-27).

Funding catch

However, Jesper Langergaard, director of Universities Denmark, the Danish rectors’ conference, said the funding does not amount to a payback for universities because for every euro gained from Horizon 2020, the sector loses one euro in funding from the government.

Langergaard told University World News that Danish universities’ good track record when it comes to participating in Horizon 2020 is “extremely positive as European collaboration in research and innovation is very important – not only for the individual researchers, but also on an institutional, national and European level".

"However, illogical as it may seem, an increase in the payback for Horizon 2020 – as the Danish minister of higher education and science states – does not increase the research funding available for the Danish university sector. At the moment, whenever a Danish university receives one euro from the European funds, the Danish sector losses one euro in national funding. This is due to the Danish government's interpretation of the 1% objective for public research investments.”