European Research Council
Europe encouraging innovative ideas
The leading pan-European funding agency, the European Research Council (ERC) makes annual awards to researchers with innovative ideas. Thus, the agency wants to encourage "research at the frontiers of knowledge".
What is the purpose of this well-funded programme?
To give outstanding researchers the resources to conduct relatively high-risk exploratory research in Europe for 5 years, outside of any national or disciplinary scientific development scheme or strategy. Individuals, assessed by an international council combining 22 renowned scientists, are at the heart of this programme.
The ERC is extremely selective, and its selection policy measures the potential of individuals championing innovative projects. The excellence of their scientific careers is taken into account just as much as the content of their project, the methodological qualities demonstrated and, looking ahead, the expected level of impact or the degree of risk involved.
How is project funding secured?
Two groups of researchers are eligible, namely "young researchers" and "senior researchers". Out of the excellent applications submitted to the ERC, in 2010 over 700 projects have been selected to be funded.
With a budget of up to 1.5 million euros (young researchers) or 2.5 million (senior researchers) to carry out their project, the chosen few have the resources to recruit the team of their choice. They can then choose an organisation anywhere in Europe to be their hosting institute for five years.
Interview with Jean-Pierre Banâtre
Jean-Pierre Banâtre is European Partnerships Director at Inria. He is a member of the French National Contact Point.
What is distinctive about this European programme?
J.P. Banâtre: The ERC programme is devoted to fundamental research. Over the course of time, this unprecedented programme encouraging high-risk projects has taken on an increasingly important position. It gives opportunities to researchers from across the world wishing to continue their work in Europe. I anticipate that soon, institutes will show the number of successful ERC applicants in their indicators.
What are the characteristics of a good project for the ERC?
J.P. Banâtre: A good application is first of all one championed by someone who is already recognised as a leading scientist, or a very promising one (for "young researchers"). It is also a high-risk project, through which the researcher expresses a radically new viewpoint, likely to revolutionise traditional and accepted approaches. In some cases, the project appropriately addresses a social problem (health, environment, etc.), and seeks to find solutions.
You follow the applicants' pitfall-strewn path on a daily basis – is that a hazardous job?
J.P. Banâtre: I do not do so in any systematic or official way. I have discussions with applicants who request this. I read through proposals that have been made because the subjects fascinate me and the applicants trust me. The period preceding submissions is then particularly busy. A long wait follows, with some queries about excellent applications that are on the razor's edge... then the personal interviews, which is a rather tense time. Hopes are sometimes dashed. We do in fact have a large number of fine applicants at Inria, but the ratios are final. Only 10% to 15% of applicants are accepted.