EU R&D funding agency overwhelmed with applications

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Four out of five small firms applying for European research funding are turned down, but participation rates are on the rise, Graham Stroud, director of the newly-established Research Executive Agency, told EURACTIV in an interview.

The head of the new agency said most proposals cannot be supported but more private companies are now availing of grants from the EU’s framework programmes for research. 

Stroud heads up the new autonomous body charged with running Europe’s big-budget R&D funding schemes. The Research Executive Agency will have 558 by 2013, making it the EU’s biggest executive agency. With a budget expected to reach around €1.6 billion, academics and entrepreneurs are watching its development with interest. 

Under the new structure, the REA will administer funds while the European institutions focus on policy matters. 

Stroud said separating science policy from management of research contracts will make the system more efficient. The agency’s priorities include running the Marie Curie grants, which support scientists’ career development, as well as SME-specific elements of FP7. 

“There is no shortage of SME applicants for the funding, but the competition is very fierce and only the best projects can be funded. There is a high degree of over-subscription to SME-specific calls for proposals,” Stroud said. 

Over the last two years, there have been five times as many proposals as can be funded, he said. 

“This unfortunately means that we have to disappoint 80% of the applicants. Lately, overall SME success rates are 18% in terms of SME applicants and 17% in terms of requested European contributions.” 

Stroud denied that European research programmes have become too focused on channelling funds to public sector researchers, noting that FP7 is open to the public and private sectors alike. 

“Actually, the SME measures in the FP7 are a very good example of this. SMEs now represent 15.5% of participations and 12.6% of budget rate in the signed grant agreements, and even more – 15.7% and 13.5% in the Cooperation Specific Programme. This brings the FP7 programmes very close to initial target of 15% SME participation,” he said. 

The REA will also play a key role in developing researchers’ career paths, something Stroud says is crucial in the globalised world of science. A decent salary and mobility, travel and career allowances are part of Europe’s efforts to retain, attract and develop scientific talent, said Stroud. 

Graham Stroud was speaking to Gary Finnegan.

To read the interview in full, please click here.

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