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A new ERC Secretary General and strong “Starting Grants” results for the UK and Germany

The European Research Council (ERC) unveiled the results of its fourth “ERC Starting Grants” competition targeted at emerging research leaders. Together with the “ERC Advanced Grants”, this mechanism is designed to promote investigator-driven frontier research in Europe and has been regularly applied since 2007.

Overall, EUR 670 million will be distributed among 480 young researchers (36 years of age, on average), from 22 countries in Europe and beyond, to support projects in the life sciences, physical sciences and engineering, and social sciences and humanities. The results of this fourth call generally confirm already established patterns. For example, UK universities continue to host the largest number of grant holders (over 25% in 2011), rather spectacularly overtaking the next most successful country in this exercise, Germany (with 13% of the grants in 2011), as well as France and the Netherlands. The UK also significantly outperforms its continental neighbours in terms of the number of winners (more than 20%) who currently reside in the country. Still, Germany remains a powerhouse of young researcher talent in Europe – over 15% of young grantees in 2011 are German nationals, followed by Britons (11%), Italians (10%) and French nationals (10%).

Geographic and gender imbalances are apparent in some areas. For example, the top five countries account for almost 70% of the successful hosting institutions, while only one in five grantees are women. These anomalies should, however, be considered in the context of such factors as national R&D budgets or the make-up of the researcher population in individual countries and across Europe.

Meanwhile, the newest round of ERC funding also supports 14 young researchers returning to Europe from the United States. This is in line with the ERC’s interest in re-attracting European researchers from overseas, which is expected to be an agenda item of note for the newly appointed Secretary General of the ERC, Professor Donald B. Dingwell, who took office on 1 September 2011. He should make an important contribution to the ERC in terms of international outreach, and in fact an international strategy is currently under preparation. Professor Dingwell will remain in the position of Secretary General until December 2013. In January 2014, in line with plans to modify ERC governance (see ACA Newsletter - Education Europe, August 2011), a permanent Brussels-based ERC President is expected to take over the roles of both the ERC Executive Agency Director and ERC Secretary General.

The fifth call for proposals under the “ERC Starting Grants” scheme was published on 21 July 2011, stipulating a 10% increase in funding for projects targeted at young scientists.