The European Research Council (ERC) was established in 2007 during the EU 7th Framework Programme (2007-2013) with a budget of 7.5 Billion Euro. In Horizon 2020 Programme (2014-2020) its budget increased 60% and reached 13.1 Billion Euro. The ERC's mission is to encourage the highest quality research in Europe through competitive funding and to support investigator-driven frontier research across all fields, on the basis of scientific excellence. The ERC is focal point for most of the EU countries since it provides large funding opportunities for both young and senior researchers. In addition, 12 Nobel Laurates have been funded by ERC as of today. Among 6 of these researchers received Nobel Prize after their ERC Grant.
Since 2012, 18 Principle Investigators received an ERC Grant in Turkish host institutions. However, this number does not represent the true potential of Turkey when the number of mostly cited publications, the total number of publications, the R&D expenditure in GDP and the number of full time equivalent researchers are considered. In this regard, TÜBİTAK International Cooperation Department took important steps to increase the number of ERC grants in Turkey. TÜBİTAK support and award programmes (namely ERC Principle Investigator Development Programme, ERC Award Programme, ERC Above Threshold Award Programme and ERC Transfer Award Programme) are designed to help researchers develop their project proposals and to intensify their stay in Turkish host institutions. In addition to these incentives, TÜBİTAK is constructing a framework to fund the highly scored but not funded ERC projects proposals nationally for a short time to increase the success of Principal Investigators in the ERC competition as well as providing a top-up funding for already funded ERC Grants.
Why researchers in Turkey should apply to ERC?
… because ERC has a large budget for funding available to all participating countries.
The ERC’s budget accounts for the 17% of total Horizon 2020 Programme. Only in 2017 calls 1.8 Billion Euro is planned to be spent. The ERC reserved a total budget of 1.8 Billion Euro in 2017 grant competitions, that is the highest ever since the ERC's inception in 2007. It is also the record ERC annual funding reserved for young researchers with two to seven years of post-PhD experience (Starting Grants). Thanks to the open competition for funding, researchers in Turkey has the same level of chance to be successful in the ERC as the researchers in any other EU County, as long as they keep submitting high quality proposals.
... because young researchers do not have to compete with their senior colleagues.
ERC provides funding opportunities for both young and senior researchers. There are 3 types of ERC core funding schemes which lets researchers from different level of research experience compete among themselves:
- Starting Grant: for 2-7 years of experience since completion of PhD
- Consolidator Grant: for 7-12 years of experience since completion of PhD
- Advanced Grant: for leaders in their respective field(s) of research and with a significant track record in the last 10 years
… because ERC creates an excellent opportunity to attract talent from abroad.
The ERC's mission is to encourage the highest quality research in Europe and to make Europe an attractive place for top researchers. It is not obligatory for a researcher to spend 100% of his/her working time in Turkey or an EU country whilst carrying out the ERC-funded research. The Principal Investigators are expected to devote at least 30-50% of their total working time to the ERC-funded project, while spending at least 50% of their total working time in an EU Member State or Associated Country.
In addition, at the request of the Principal Investigator, an ERC Grant can be transferred to a new Host Institution during the lifetime of the grant (portability rule). This rule has been created by ERC, in order to increase the competition among universities to hire and retain the best talents in their premises by providing the best working conditions.
Last but not least, ERC grantees can recruit talents from all around the world to their research teams. This is further encouraged through a set of international agreements with non-European counterparts of the ERC, promoting young researchers to come on research visits and temporarily join ERC teams in Europe.
In this context TÜBİTAK established “Destination Turkey Initiative” in 2010. As a matter of fact, National Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy (2011-2016) and 10th Development Plan (2014-2018) highlight the importance of attracting and retaining qualified human resources in Turkey. In this context, TÜBİTAK organizes Destination Turkey Conferences especially in the leading universities of USA namely MIT, Yale University, Stanford University, to create awareness about the ERC and many other national and international funding opportunities in Turkey for both Turkish and foreign researchers. Last but not least, TÜBİTAK takes part in international career fairs regularly and presents the opportunities in Turkish Research Area. Destination Turkey Initiative gave inspiration to the EU and some of the EU countries and paved the way for similar initiatives.
Finally TÜBİTAK organizes information days and consultation meetings with universities in Turkey at all levels to share best practices of European universities about attracting and retaining the best talents in Turkey.
… because there is plenty of room for improvement in Turkey’s performance in ERC.
The selection of the scientific proposals for the ERC funding is based on international peer review with excellence as the sole criterion. The ERC uses a panel-based system, in which 25 panels of high-level scientists make recommendations for funding. Research priorities of the EU, geographical balance or the past experience of the host institution are not a part of the scientific evaluation. Besides, all the scientific decisions about the programme are taken in an independent body called the ERC Scientific Council which is composed of eminent scientists and scholars, including Nobel Prize winners. Such a transparent and merit based system creates a fair competition between researchers from Turkey and their counterparts in the other EU countries.
Graph 1. Turkey’s performance over years. (Source: ERC)