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New report: Best practices for supporting success in ERC grant competitions Policy recommendations

The European Research Council is the main European funding organisation for excellent frontier research. Participation in the competitions and acquisition of ERC funding is a vital part of Swedish national research strategy. However, participation and success rates in securing ERC funding could be higher given Sweden’s strong research tradition. To help improve the situation YAS has written a policy report with recommendations on how Sweden's success within the ERC can be strengthened.

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Debate article in Tidningen Curie External link, opens in new window..

The recommendations are based on a series of interviews with early career research leaders in Sweden and in countries comparable to Sweden with successful track records in ERC grant competitions, as well as on a review of national policies supporting ERC applications from these countries.

Through our interviews we have identified four enablers for developing winning proposals and hosting ERC projects. The four key enablers are:

  1. dedicated support for developing ERC proposals
  2. good conditions for hosting ERC projects
  3. access to undirected funding to develop research
  4. strong research culture with rich international networks

Ewa Machotka. Foto: Magnus Kårdal

We hope that our report will show the key role of scientific freedom and good working conditions, in strengthening Sweden's ERC success and to create an ambitious, strong and impactful research landscape in Sweden, says Ewa Machotka, project leader and one of the suthors of the report.





Within each key enabler, we have developed recommendations aimed at strengthening Sweden’s participation and success in the ERC funding programme. Our recommendations are aimed at three different types of actors: (1) the government, (2) Swedish funding agencies, and (3) universities.

  1. to ensure that Swedish researchers have dedicated support for developing competitive ERC proposals, we recommend that:

    • the Swedish government strengthens the capacity and resources of the ERC National Contact Point (NCP) to bolster ERC guidance and competence at universities, and offer advice and ERC-training for host institutions and applicants through hands-on workshops and reading days;

    • the Swedish Research Council in collaboration with other funders offer seed funding for improving proposals to all ERC reapplicants who have advanced to Stage 2 (grade A and B) and were invited to the interview, yet did not receive funding. Seed funding may cover, for instance, pilot studies, data and feedback collection, as well as research time;

    • universities:
      • offer competitive proposal-writing seed funding for first-time ERC applicants to ensure that they have allocated time for proposal writing and resources to prepare strong ERC proposals;
      • strengthen ERC training at universities as regards proposal and interview preparation to complement the NCP training.

  2. to ensure that researchers enjoy good conditions for hosting ERC projects at Swedish institutions, comparable to those in other European countries, we recommend that:

    • the Swedish government take action to ensure that funding is available for overhead costs beyond the 25% currently covered by the ERC to prevent overhead costs from detering either applying for or hosting ERC grants;

    • Swedish research funders work together with universities over the long term to revise the current overhead cost model ('SUHF model') in order to increase transparency and efficiency, incentivise participation in seeking ERC grants, and reduce disparities between institutions;

    • universities ensure that Swedish institutions are suitable locations to host ERC projects by:
      • providing funding for the salaries of PIs through direct government funding (basanslag) so that grantees have sufficient time for their ERC projects;
      • preventing overhead costs from deterring participation or detracting from individual researcher budgets;
      • developing clear career incentive mechanisms to attract and retain ERC grant winners at Swedish host institutions, e.g., by means of administrative support for projects, tenure track positions, and offering funding top-ups or prolongation grants.

  3. to ensure access to undirected funding and increase the compatibility of reserach in Sweden with the ERC vision of frontier research, we recommend that:

    • the Swedish government increases the proportion of funding for scholar-initiated research allocated to the national funding agencies to ensure developing of strong curiosity-driven frontier research environments in Sweden;

    • Swedish research funders support risk-taking and curiosity-driven research across all research domains and safeguard scientific excellence as the key assessment criterion for proposals;

    • universities ensure that researchers have good conditions to pursue research, including sufficient time for research and salary coverage to promote discoveries of unexpected results.

  4. to support strong research cultures rooted in the international research landscape we recommend that:

    • the Swedish government:
      • ensures that ERC funding programmes are strengthened and protected within Horizon Europe and future framework programmes;
      • improves procedures and conditions for the immigration of foreign researchers to reinforce Sweden’s competitiveness as a knowledge nation;
      • amends the Higher Education Ordinance to extend the cut-off dates for applying for assistant professorships, from five to seven years after obtaining a PhD, to ensure universities attract the best candidates for these positions.

    • Swedish research funders strengthen their investment in mobility mechanisms for researchers, such as competitive sabbatical funding and international exchange support;

    • universities:
      • provide sufficient long-term funding to develop strong research environments and individual research careers;
      • conduct open and transparent merit-based recruitments striving to attract internationally competitive talent;
      • promote mobility and international collaboration, by means of career development, policy, administrative support, and performance evaluations;
      • encourage strong academic leadership by promoting academic merits in leadership positions, ensuring adequate administrative relief and support to maintain research, and incentivising collegiality.

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