Evaluating proposals for European research

h2020Funding for research is tight and getting tighter, at least if you listen to researchers. Mind you, academics’ complaints are not much of an indicator: many of my colleagues moaned endlessly during the early years of this century, when public funding for academic research reached unprecedented heights.

Budgets have been tightened or cut since then, yet the institutional and sytem wide pressures for external funding are greater than ever. Competition for research funding is particularly fierce at the European level. I’m currently in Brussels, along with a couple of hundred other social scientists who are helping to evaluate proposals under the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 programme.

Overall, the Commission is making €80 billion of funding available over 7 years (2014 to 2020), with a strong focus on research that will promote technological, economic or social innovation. Like all EC programmes, the funding is drawn from member states’ budgets, in this case the budgets for publicly funded science and research.

Of the total, just under €10m was set aside for 2015 to support research and innovation on the theme: Young Generation in an Innovative, Inclusive & Sustainable Europe. I’m currently in Brussels helping to evaluate the 145 proposals that were submitted, which it’s likely that five will be selected.

Putting together a proposal is a lengthy and painstaking business. It involves bringing together partners of different kinds and from different European countries, as well as securing the formal commitment of each of the participants, and getting them all agreeing on a detailed plan of work. At the end of all that, the odds of your getting funded are one in thirty.

We’re going to have a tough week making the decisions, but the process is much, much toughter on those who have produced the proposals.