The odds of winning a grant from the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 research programme are around one in nine, according to new numbers published this week.
This is a sharp fall from the average 19 to 21 per cent odds in the preceding Framework Programme 7, which ran between 2007 and 2013.
The analysis, based on 152,627 Horizon 2020 applications received in 2015, shows many proposals to the €77 billion programme that received top marks from evaluators did not get funded.
“Horizon 2020 would have needed €41.6 billion more in the first two years to fund all proposals deemed excellent by independent evaluators,” the report says.
All EU member states submitted more applications in 2015 than 2014, a fact the Commission puts down to good marketing and ease of applying. But the result was that every country took home a smaller piece of the overall pie.
The UK, which is preparing to leave the EU following a referendum in June, is Horizon 2020’s most enthusiastic participant, submitting 18,566 proposals, and the biggest winner of money. Germany, Italy and Spain are not far behind.
Malta, as the country with the lowest population in the EU, has sent the fewest proposals to Horizon 2020, although measured per head it is the fourth biggest applicant.
Few countries have witnessed such mixed fortunes as Latvia, which saw its success rate jump to 16.7 per cent in 2014 - one of the EU’s best performances - only to fall to 6.1 per cent in 2015, the second lowest.
Researchers in Bulgaria had the lowest odds of success in 2015, at 5.6 per cent.
Overall, 39 per cent of applications were from university researchers, 35.2 per cent from the private sector and 18.4 per cent from research organisations, in the first two years of the programme.
Public bodies had the lowest application rate at 3.5 per cent, but the highest success rate. Almost half of all applicants had no prior experience of EU research programmes.
More researchers from outside the EU applied for grants in 2015 than in 2014, but interest is low. Submissions from the US, China, Canada and Australia make up almost half of all successful applications from outside Europe.
Japan has submitted 212 applications while a particularly icy spell in relations between Europe and Russia, following the latter’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula of Ukraine in 2014, may help to explain the lowly 171 applications from Russian scientists.
The numbers will trouble the Commission, which is trying to entice more non-EU countries to participate in Horizon 2020, bringing their own funding to the table.
The analysis underlines how hard it has been to hire evaluators with a background in industry, with 60 per cent of evaluators coming from a university or research organisation, whereas only 18 per cent are from the private sector.
More positively, grant processing has speeded up. Despite the application avalanche, more than 90 per cent of all grant agreements were signed by the Commission within the eight month target, shaving a month off the average turnaround time between 2007 and 2013.