ERC grant winners based in Switzerland are told to find host institution in another country

11 Jan 2022 | News

As the European Research Council hands out €619M to early-career researchers in first Horizon Europe funding round, 28 grantees in Switzerland must take the money elsewhere, while UK-based winners warned they may have to do likewise if association talks fail

Maria Leptin, President of the European Research Council. Photo:

Switzerland and UK-based early career scientists awarded funding in a €619 million round of European Research Council (ERC) grants may have to move to another country to do their research.

The grants, awarded as part of the first tranche of funding under the EU’s Horizon Europe research programme, are available to scientists of all nationalities as long as they carry out their work in an EU or Horizon Europe associated country.

But a year into the programme it remains unclear which countries will manage to secure associated status, including Switzerland and the UK, where Horizon Europe has got caught in political disputes.

The 28 grantees who chose to do their research in Swiss institutions will have to find new host organisations based in one of the Horizon Europe countries because Switzerland and the EU have not agreed on the country’s participation in the EU research programme.

That means Switzerland is now considered a non-associated country and its institutions are not eligible for ERC funding. The ERC call closed before the talks were called off and an exception has been made to allow researchers who were expecting to be based in Switzerland to pick a new host institution.

The grants are also not yet in the bag for researchers in countries still working on associating to Horizon Europe, including the UK. The ERC says winners whose host countries fail to sign association agreements with the EU by the time the grant agreement is signed will not be treated on the same terms as associated country candidates.

The UK and Switzerland have been leading beneficiaries of the ERC for years, with scientists submitting hundreds of proposals for starting grants each year. This year, the number dropped slightly, with UK based researchers submitting 359 grant proposals compared to 370 last year. Forty six researchers based in the UK were awarded grants in this round.  

Geographical imbalance

The grants, averaging €1.5 million, enable young researchers to form teams to carry out their own fundamental research projects.

Winners, of which a record 43% are female, include a French researcher looking into how predictable earthquakes are, a study of the mechanisms behind dysfunction of mucin-producing goblet cells, to be carried out in Israel, and an Italian project looking to diamonds as the key to unravel the origin of earth's water.

Competition was fierce, with only 9.8% of more than 4,000 applicants receiving funding. That compares to 13% in the last round of the annual call under the previous research programme Horizon 2020.

Researchers based in western Europe were the biggest winners of this funding round. Germany’s universities and research centres are set to host 72 of the 397 ERC-funded projects, with France coming in second with 53. UK’s research organisations take third place with 46 grants, down from 62 in the last year’s funding round.

Eastern and central Europe got a much smaller slice of the pie, in a show of persisting inequalities in research excellence across the continent.

Poland will host eight grantees, another four will perform their research in the Czech Republic and one researcher each will work in Slovenia and Greece. Outside the EU, two scientists will receive funding to carry out their research in Turkey.

The ERC also celebrated attracting 13 researchers based in the US to move to Europe.

Editor's note: the story was updated on 13 January to reflect the fact that Horizon Europe association talks with Switzerland never started.

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