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EU research programmes should fund individuals rather than large teams, scrap submission deadlines and award smaller grants, says a new analysis by RISE, an expert group which advises the European Commission on research and innovation. Their 228-page report discusses measures to improve EU science funding, including re-focusing research funding on people rather than projects and introducing a more methodical process for reviewing proposals.

“The extreme competition for limited resources brought about in part from low funding success rates and limited principal investigator-driven funding opportunities creates an incentive structure that has a direct negative impact on open science,” the report says.

The recommendations are the latest – and among the more influential – of hundreds of suggestions that the Commission has received as it begins drafting its next big research and innovation effort, Framework Programme 9. The opinions, from across the EU, generally call for an increase in funding from the current, €77 billion, seven-year programme; but they also criticise the huge amount of time and effort required to apply for the EU grants and the record-low probability of actually winning one.

Faced with extremely low success rates in the current programme, Horizon 2020, researchers are submitting multiple applications. This translates into the loss of many months of research activity and productivity, according to the report.

To improve the success rate and stop excellent proposals missing out, grant amounts could be adjusted so that all applications that meet evaluation criteria and are considered excellent receive some funding, even if the total awarded for some or all grants is less than the originally proposed budgets, the report adds.

Preparing for Horizon 2020 successor

The Commission has been reviewing the performance of the €77 billion Horizon 2020 programme since the beginning of the year, amid concerns in Brussels that the imminent exit of the UK will lead to a cut in the research budget in the future.

To convince member states of the need to maintain – or increase –research resources, EU officials are stressing the importance of building up evidence of the impact of research spending ahead of negotiations on the future EU budget. Another expert group headed by the influential former director-general of the World Trade Organization, Pascal Lamy, will publish its vision for the 2021- 2028 EU research programme next month.


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