Horizon 2020: now's the time

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Horizon 2020 finally goes into the executive phase. It is the new European funding system for research and innovation, that is now replacing the seventh Framework Programme (FP7), ended in December 2013.

Therefore, European research has to face new opportunities as well as new rules, new issues and new administrative and normative challenges. With about 30 research institutions located in its territory, Trieste is a peculiar site in Europe both for basic research and for innovation and technology transfer.

This is the reason why on 5th February SISSA (the International school for advanced studies), located in Trieste, together with APRE (Agency for the Promotion of Research in Europe) organized a seminar for scientists and administrative staff about Horizon 2020. The unique speaker was Manuela Schisani, National Contact Point for the ERC (European Research Council) programme. “There has been a continuing and increasing erosion of national funds for research,” says the director of SISSA Guido Martinelli opening the meeting, “so we need to enhance our access to the European ones. It’s important to understand the mechanisms of this new funding system in order to gather the best advantage from it”.

SISSA researchers are usually supported by their scientific secretariat while they prepare their proposals for funds, but when there are new rules, an external help can be necessary. APRE (Agency for the Promotion of Research in Europe) has a ten-year collaboration with SISSA, which is, together with many other research centers and Universities, one of the APRE members. The agency gives support and expert advices about funding normatives and procedures, organizes training courses for scientists and project managers, information days throughout Italy, such as the one at SISSA.

Horizon 2020 supports two kinds of projects: research projects and innovation projects. The programme, finally announced last December, is composed by three pillars: Excellent Science, Industrial Leadership and Societal Challenges.


Horizon 2020 pillars (source www.apre.it)


The Excellent Science framework includes bottom-up and excellence-driven projects that will be distributed through four programmes. Among them, the European Research Council (ERC) is the one focused on basic research and the Future and Emerging Technologies (FET)[1] is something new with respect to FP7. The main difference is that all programs have a duration of two years

ERC has the highest budget, almost 12 billion euro, against the 7 about of the Seventh Framework Programme. Each grant can go from 1.5 to 2.5 million euros. ERC projects must be cutting-edge ideas in new and interdisciplinary fields of knowledge, with high risk and high gain. They are individual grants, nominally given to the Principal Investigator (PI) who has to demonstrate his competence, awareness, enthusiasm and personality. The PI also has to demonstrate his indipendence from his Institute: the grant is individual and he is free to move to another place in Europe if work conditions require it. 

FET funds, on the contrary, are not individual. FET are the real newness. They are designed to promote collaboration among research centers in Europe (the collaboration of three entities at least is explicitly required). These new calls aim to overcome the current fragmentation in applied research and to create a shared and inarguable European leadership in the field of emerging technologies. The total budget is € 2.4 billion, 1.5-2 million for every project. A part of the budget is expressly addressed to dissemination and communication activity, which must occur in respect of the open access regime.

Unlike the ERC and the previous calls, there are no specific evaluation panels, divided by area of research. The FETs are evaluated by a unique panel and the projects are all against all. “Open is open” is the slogan:  there are no thematic restrictions. All visionary technologies that have never been included in industrial or research roadmaps are well accepted. Actually, risk is well accepted.

Thus, just to cite the last slide: “keep calm and prepare your proposal”.

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