четверг, 25 июня 2015 г.

Exclusive: Horizon 2020 success rates slide towards 12%

It’s getting harder to win EU research money, as the application ‘avalanche’ keeps on rolling
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The competition for European Union funding is getting hotter: new, preliminary data show the average odds of getting a grant from the EU’s €77 billion Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme has fallen to between 12 and 14 per cent.
This percentage – disclosed to Science|Business on Tuesday – is based on 37,000 proposals which have gone all the way through the evaluation process, received during the programme’s first 100 “calls for proposals,” or grant competitions.
It’s a sharp fall from the average 19 to 21 per cent odds that researchers enjoyed in Horizon 2020’s predecessor, the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), which ran between 2007 and 2013.  And it’s also down from the average 14.5 per cent success rate that the Commission reported in March, based on an analysis of an earlier set of calls.
“The avalanche of proposals indicates the enormous interest there is, but also the huge issue of over-subscription,” said Robert-Jan Smits, the European Commission’s Director-General for Research and Innovation. Commission officials in the past have cited several reasons for the deluge of applications, including tough economic conditions, national research cuts, and a broadening of the EU programmes to include more close-to-market grants. But Smits noted that other factors may include the simplified online forms, standardised applications and procedures, and a promised faster turnaround in decision. He added: “I think we’re partly to blame. Our simplification agenda has made it a lot easier to apply.”
Whatever the cause, the over-subscription could develop into a political headache for the Commission – and in discussing it with Science|Business, Smits also laid out several steps the Commission is now taking to manage the problem.
Who’s doing well?
The most eager applicants hail from the UK, the country that has sent the largest number of proposals to Brussels so far. But German researchers and businesses are collecting the most research money. Smits said that reflected the strong, and continuing, German government investment in research and innovation; Germany is one of the few EU member-states to hit the EU’s formal target of spending at least 3 per cent of GDP on research. By contrast, he said, “the UK is not spending enough.” French researchers are submitting fewer proposals than in previous years, but their win ratio is strong. 
Almost half of the funding so far has gone to these three countries. Germany has pulled in 20 per cent of the money, the UK 15 per cent and France 10 per cent.  Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium and Greece increased their share of the funding, compared to FP7. One surprise is that East European countries have seen their overall share of grants stay steady, rather than fall as some had feared. Poland received 2.5 per cent of the money; and on a per capita basis Slovenia was the third most-active applicant in Europe. Cyprus and Luxembourg ranked No. 1 and 2, on a per capita basis.  Meanwhile, grants to non-EU countries overall have dropped.
Universities are still collecting the biggest share of grants at 35 per cent of the total. That’s down from 44 per cent in FP7 – a major drop that reflects, in part, the programme’s expansion to include more small companies and innovation-related projects. 
Still, “in absolute figures, they’re probably getting back about the same amount of money. Remember, the old cake was €50 billion – it’s now almost €80 billion,” Smits explained.
The share of funding is up 3 per cent for research and technology organisations, from 27 to 30 per cent. This is an unexpected development, given that these organisations – such as Germany’s Fraunhofer Society and the Dutch TNO agency – had protested loudly against the new funding rules when Horizon 2020 was being planned in 2012 and 2013. They ultimately reached a compromise with the Commission, but many still grumbled that the grant terms wouldn’t sufficiently cover their high overhead costs. In the end, the numbers suggest the new grant terms didn’t discourage them from applying and winning.
EU funding for the private sector has jumped slightly from 24 per cent to about 28 per cent – but a large share of that is going to small and medium-sized companies.
“We’re completely on target for financing small companies,” Smits said. The Horizon 2020 legislation says 20 per cent of the programme’s money for industrial technologies and grand-challenge work must end up in SMEs’ pockets – so far on track. 
The Commission says 145,000 ‘applications’, which is an aggregate count of the number of times participants have applied, are included in these first 100 calls. Newcomers, organisations which have not looked to Brussels for grant money in FP7 or a prior Horizon 2020 call, attracted 12 per cent of the funding. Among these were 1,100 small and medium-sized companies, taking advantage of a new Horizon 2020 programme that allows them to apply quickly and singly rather than in complicated consortia.
The real draw for researchers is towards Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions, grants totaling €6 billion to promote exchange programmes for researchers. ICT and health grants are also heavily subscribed.  In the SME Instrument, where the odds of winning a grant sometime fall to as low as 6 per cent, companies from Spain and Italy are filing the largest amount of applications. Also pushing hard are companies from Estonia, Luxembourg and Finland.
Total proposals pushing 63,000
These figures are the first conveyed publicly and in extensive detail since one of Smits’ deputies, Wolfgang Burtscher, told a Science|Business conference on March 24 that the average odds of winning a grant in the first 14 months was 14.53 per cent. His success percentage was based on 26,321 proposals concluded and evaluated up to 25 February.
As with all numbers, there are some caveats to the latest data batch.
Success percentages are based on the 37,000 proposals that have been concluded and evaluated from the programme’s first 100 calls – so not the total overall number of proposals received, which is tipping 63,000. It appears to be a dynamic process – with your real odds of getting the money depending heavily on exactly when and to which grant calls you apply. The data include proposals filed to the European Research Council, the Commission’s frontier-science agency, which has its own set of grant rules.
If the competition is fierce, at least the winning applicants get their hands on grant money quicker than under Horizon 2020.
Despite the flood of applications, 95 per cent of grants are signed within eight months, Smits said. “Let’s not forget, this was a huge challenge: in the past, it took us around a year and a half,” he noted.
Shake up of evaluators
11,000 experts were hired by the Commission to wade through and rate the deluge of proposals. Almost half of these evaluators are new, Smits points out. “It means we don’t have an old boy’s network doing our peer review,” he said.
Of this total, 35 per cent are female – which means the Commission is not yet at its non-binding target of 40 per cent set out at the beginning of the programme. Two-thirds of the evaluators are from the public sector.