Too what lies behind these figures and all the

Too hard to get a grant?

After
the first three years of Horizon 2020, as of 1 January 2017, only one fourth of
the budget´s programme has been allocated (Horizon 2020. Key findings from the
interim evaluation. 2017). From 74.8 billion euros budget just about 20.4 billion
euros has been granted. Meaning that there is a lack of balance between the
period of the programme that passed already and the money that was supposed to
be allocated during that time. Also, this will result in a correction needed to
be performed during the remaining 3 years with the correlative cost and burden
to the administration.

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Applicants
know now that the success rate is a scary 11.6%, 6.8pps less than previous
programme (Seventh Framework Programme, FP7 had a success rate of 18.4%) so is extremely
important to analyse what lies behind these figures and all the implications
behind.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 3. Key Indicators.
Horizon 2020, Interim evaluation. 2017

 

As we
can see in the graphic above, efficiency reviewing proposals did even
increased, thanks to a high externalisation of the management and
simplification of the application process. But, Horizon 2020 have received more
than 100.000 applications during the first 3 years of its life. It is a 65%
increasing between FP7 and H2020. So, is clear that this delay in allocating
the budget is mainly caused by oversubscription. And oversubscription, combined
with a low success rate are a dangerous thing that could turn into demotivation
for future applicants, specially newcomers, leaving European citizens without reaching
the benefits of high quality projects.

 

The
idea that get a grant is almost a matter of luck is spreading fast. The achievement
rate can vary heavily depending on the part of the programme the applicant chooses,
for example, under the food category the rate is 13.3% and in transport it goes
up to a 17.7%. Calls are considered too general, so is hard to decide to which
specific part of the programme to apply. Other problem related is that the
quality of feedback significantly decreased from previous programme, this
leaves applicants without the proper tools to improve their chances to get into
H2020 in the future or at least improve their projects according to the high
standards of the Commission. Between applicants that not get the level required
by the Commission and the doubts about personal interpretations by the
evaluators this all is being translated into money wasted by applicants and the
EU.

 

In conclusion,
is not only that is harder now to get a grant and that the next three years evaluators
could face even more problems in order to distribute more money in less time.
But it´s also about the fact that an estimated of 62.4 Billion euros will be
needed in order to cover all top quality projects submitted.

 

 

Is it a big
budget counterproductive?

Horizon2020
being the “largest Framework Programme budget ever” (Horizon 2020. Key findings
from the interim evaluation. 2017) is not only bringing closer the programme
main goal “To contribute to building a society and economy based on knowledge
and innovation across the Union” (Horizon 2020. Key findings from the interim evaluation.
2017) but also causing more than one unexpected effect.

 After the economic crisis of 2010, some countries,
like Spain or Italy, found the perfect excuse to reduce their expenditure in
research on the national level, leaving researchers with no option but to apply
for European money. Horizon2020 could be being used as a smokescreen to hide austerity.

Another direct consequence of such a big budget is that individual grants
are also big, with an average of two million euros per grant. Mainly top quality
researchers get into H2020, only the crème de la crème, people with many articles
published into prestigious scientific journals. Ironically, theses skilful personnel
sometimes need to stop focusing on their scientific work to become project
managers of their projects. With too few big researches instead of smaller
enterprises, we end leaving out of the field early-career researchers and also
loosing talent where is really needed.

Working towards gender equality is not only one of the five main
objectives of the European Commission it is also a specific key element of the
Horizon 2020 programme. It´s true that there are specific calls aiming to
increase the number of women into research and innovation or large scale
projects focusing on science education whose objective is to increase the
number of female scientists and engineers. But this is all too little or too
long-term if we consider how important is to reduce the occupational
segmentation in fields covered by H2020 or the fact that “in 2012 women accounted
for 47?% of PhD but made up only 33 % of researchers and 21 % of
top-level researchers” (Eurostat, 2017). Effective and low-cost practices such
as require gender equity in the applying teams or even in the applying
institutions are not even considered, maybe because of the size of the
projects.

Post-socialistic member states are complaining lately about being
unfairly treated. Issues like restrictions of free movement of workers, and
advised two speed Europe, food double standards and many other reasons do not
call for integration. And knowing that researchers from eastern Europe have little
opportunities of getting an H2020 grant is not help towards unification. H2020
funds mainly big projects located in countries with a extensive investigation
background leaving out low-performing
countries. Between the 15 top countries with the largest
H2020 we can find Norway and Israel –not EU members- but not a single eastern
country, not even Poland that is the sixth most populated country inside the EU.
With all that, is not surprising that some newspapers are calling Horizon 2020 a
“Reversed Robin Hood scheme, given that
most ERC funds go to well-off countries” (The Guardian, 2014).

Large budget and high quality only could sound like a bullet prove
strategy, but as we can see now maybe the European institutions need to develop
some action plan to correct unwanted consequences.

Brexit and Horizon 2020, what is ahead?

By 23:00 of March 29th, 2019 the United Kingdom will leave
officially the European Union. And even with all the uncertainty that surrounds
Brexit there are important factors that will directly affect Horizon 2020 and
its relation with the UK.

Fears are high for British researchers. Young scientists won´t be able
anymore to move freely inside the Community anymore? Losing the international
collaboration that H2020 implies will make harder for them to publish in
prestigious journals? Many big research companies are also publicly expressing
their intention to leave UK after Brexit, ending with several British scientists
losing their jobs. All moves into unknown waters, but UK, being a scientific
power is really in a difficult position.

On the other hand, Brexiters ensure that nothing will change. Britain
will sign an association agreement (like Norway or Turkey) and will keep business
as usual. But the reality seems to be not so simple. Cases like Swiss could be
a good indicator to know what is ahead for the UK. Swiss being known as an anti-immigration
country had to change their policies with this regard “in 2004 they allowed free movement of people to and from the EU,
partly to qualify for EU research programs” (Technology Review 2016). Therefore,
UK could have to choose between the dilemma of allowing free movement of people
(the main reason that lead into Brexit) or having to pay an extra cost of around
20 percent. There is a serious issue for the country with most H2020 funded
projects and the second with the highest EC contribution allocated. At the end
of the day, numbers speak clear and loud “Between
2007 and 2013, it paid 5.4 billion euros into the EU research budget but got
8.8 billion euros back in grants” (Technology Review 2016).

With Brexit negotiations
undergoing, Commission says that maybe UK grantees may have to leave after
Brexit. And UK government reassure participants that they will pay participants
if necessary. Nevertheless, what will happen after March 2019 is unclear, but
what we know is that even if Brexit supporters are right and UK get into
associated country category, UK will have to pay its own way into European
projects and lose their right to vote in how to allocate that money at the same
time. Brexit also means that England, will take away from the general progress
all their expertise and professionals. At the end, what seems clear is that we
would all end losing.