Technical woes are interrupting first Horizon Europe calls

20 May 2021 | News

European Innovation Council Pathfinder call extended by a week due to technical issues – and it’s not the first case of IT glitches blocking submission of research proposals this year

The European Commission’s proposals submission system is experiencing technical issues as the first Horizon Europe calls launch.

On Wednesday morning, the EU’s brand new innovation scale-up funder, the European Innovation Council, announced a six day extension to its Pathfinder call for breakthrough research projects, on the day before the call was due to close. The reason was an - unspecified - technical issue affecting the Commission’s Funding and Tenders Portal.

The Commission encourages researchers to submit applications a few days ahead of the deadline. But this time around, they were welcomed by error messages while trying to upload them.

The Commission has not said what the problem is, but complaints from applicants online allege that for over a week it was not possible to edit their proposals or add partners to their projects.

The same submissions portal was used for Horizon 2020 calls, and it is unclear whether these problems are new. The Commission has refused to comment further but confirmed the IT department is working on fixing the EIC Pathfinder problem as soon as possible.

There were similar problems last month around the European Research Council’s first 2021 call.  The Starting Grants call for bottom-up fundamental research projects was open to 8 April. But in the lead up to the deadline, while some were celebrating submitting their proposals after months of preparation, others were unable to access the platform.

“No hope to be able to submit an #ERC #starting #grant today. What is going on with the server? I am the only one experiencing problems today?” tweeted a researcher at the University of Bern, a day ahead of the 8 April deadline.

The ERC acknowledged the problem on 6 April, promising to fix it as soon as possible. But with the issues persisting, the 8 April deadline was extended by 24 hours. A little later, the deadline was once more extended by three days, to 14 April.

But the problems persisted for some users. “Again ...  after a smooth morning, the issues with the administrative form are back. No access again,” tweeted one researcher.

The issue was eventually resolved on 9 April. Some reported more problems popping up over the next few days, but most seemed to be solved by simply clearing browser cookies.

It is unclear whether the issues with the EIC and the ERC are related, and if similar problems could affect future Horizon Europe calls and applicants. One Twitter user reported that scientists applying for ERC Consolidator grants had experienced problems, but the call deadline was not extended.

The technical troubles are the latest twist on the long road to launching the EU‘s new seven-year research programme. Researchers are still waiting for Horizon Europe work programmes laying out timelines and budgets for funding calls, which were meant to come out in March. No date for an official release has been announced yet and the latest on the subject from the Commission suggests the work programmes won’t appear until the end of May.

At the same time, the Commission and member states continue battling over how much access non-EU countries have to quantum and space research projects, a row which is also holding up the publication of work programmes.

In an unrelated incident last week, the EIC unexpectedly froze new submissions for the June round of its €1 billion Accelerator call for start-up funding. At first, many suspected technical issues were the cause, but the EIC later clarified it was inundated, saying there were too many initial proposals to evaluate for those who were successful at this stage to submit full proposals before the cut-off date, and as a result no more outline proposals could be accepted.

Despite its ongoing problems with the applications portal, EIC today launched a €100 million call for projects translating research to market, of which €40.5 million is for medical devices and energy harvesting and storage technologies. The deadline is 22 September. 

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