UK researchers invited to apply on ‘conditional basis’ as ERC kicks off new €1.9B funding round

22 Feb 2021 | News

This is the first call from the European Research Council under the new Horizon Europe research programme


The first funding call under EU's new research framework programme Horizon Europe will open on 25 February, with UK-based researchers welcome to apply, the European Research Council (ERC) announced today.

Read The Horizon Papers

Science|Business is publishing here all the draft Horizon Europe work programmes available to us. You can read them here. Or, if you have additional ones, you can send them to [email protected] (anonymously, if you wish.)

The ERC scientific council published the official 2021 work programme after it was adopted by the European Commission, becoming the first to be approved under EU’s 2021-2027 research and innovation programme.

“This important step paves the way for launching calls that support top researchers and their teams to pursue frontier research at different stages of their careers,” said Mariya Gabriel, EU’s commissioner for research and innovation.

According to the official work programme, the ERC will open the first Horizon Europe funding round for its starting grant scheme, with the deadline for submissions extended until 8 April. The extension is intended to give researchers enough time to prepare their proposals, while keeping the call within budget, and not delaying the evaluation calendar.

The ERC consolidator grant call will open on 11 March and the advanced grant on 20 May 2021. There will be no synergy or proof of concept calls in this year’s work programme.

ERC president Jean-Pierre Bourguignon said the delayed political agreement on the EU multiannual budget has held up the first Horizon Europe calls, but the Commission has maintained the original timelines for evaluations. "The European Commission’s commitment, and the outstanding dedication of the executive agency staff, has enabled us to maintain the original planning for the evaluations, in particular for the 2021 starting grant call," said Bourguignon.

ERC will make €1.9 billion available to around 1,000 researchers in 2021. Two thirds of the funding is earmarked for early- to mid-career researchers. The funding will also support jobs for an estimated 6,860 postdoctoral researchers, PhD students and research staff employed in ERC-funded teams.

Door left ajar for the UK

The European Commission has not concluded negotiations on which non-EU countries will be associated in Horizon Europe, but the ERC work programme says research institutions outside the EU or associated countries are eligible for funding when they host additional team members, and provided that their participation is deemed essential for carrying out the project.

Until negotiations are complete, applicants based in the UK and other countries that were associated to Horizon 2020 will be able to apply for new ERC Horizon Europe grants "on a conditional basis,” said Bourguignon.

Researchers in associated countries such as Switzerland and Israel can apply for ERC's first rounds under Horizon Europe, pending final association agreements later this year. 

"The ERC is now very hopeful for a timely conclusion of Horizon Europe association negotiations in order to be able to fund successful applicants," he said.

“Considering the union’s interest to retain, in principle, relations with the countries associated to Horizon 2020, most third countries associated to Horizon 2020 are expected to be associated to Horizon Europe by the time the first grant agreements under Horizon Europe are signed,” the work programme says.

Other novelties

The 2021 work programme introduces some novelties in the evaluation procedure and adds two new evaluation panels.

After submitting their proposals, applicants for advanced grants who reach the second step of the evaluation will present their proposal to the evaluation panel in an interview.

The ERC has also added two new evaluation panels on human mobility environment and space, and material engineering.

Under this year’s work programme, the ERC will not fund synergy and proof of concept grants. However, the ERC scientific council is expecting to be able to open the first calls for these grants in the second half of 2021, with funding to be allocated in 2022. The scientific council expects the call schedule to be back to more familiar dates by the summer of 2022.

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