Driven by curiosity and crucial to facing global challenges: in-depth study finds ERC-funded research under Horizon 2020 programme highly relevant to Europe’s policy ambitions.
A new in-depth analysis of all research projects funded by the European Research Council under the Horizon 2020 research and innovation framework programme has been made public today. The study - “Mapping of ERC Frontier Research” - includes thirty factsheets showcasing the rich diversity of the funded research, emerging areas of science, new methods and interdisciplinary links between research problems addressed by ERC grantees, as well as geographic patterns in the distribution of projects across Europe.
The mapping also found that a large share of the research – proposed by the researchers and supported by the ERC without thematic priorities – tackles key global challenges. Hundreds of these “bottom-up”, curiosity-driven projects advance the EU’s current policy aims in the area of climate change, health and digital transformation.
“I commend the ERC Scientific Council for initiating, supporting and guiding this valuable analytical work that looks back on the funded research. Not only do we see that ERC grantees push the frontiers of knowledge, but the study also highlights that this knowledge can help us make the European Green Deal, EU4Health and other crucial initiatives a success,,” said Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth.
Between 2014 and 2020, the ERC funded 6,707 research projects worth €13.3 billion. To analyse all these projects, the ERC Scientific Council designed a special methodology using a three-dimensional classification system of almost 900 terms describing the disciplines, methods and topics of each ERC project.
The results depict a landscape of the ERC-funded research with its particular features. The factsheets present the most common disciplines (e.g., cell biology or economics), prevalent topics (e.g., algorithm development and cultural heritage) and new methods or instrumentations (e.g., in the area of computational modelling and simulations in the computational protein prediction).
Of the analysed ERC projects, 34% are likely to contribute to health policies, including in cancer, brain and human mind research. One in ten projects addressed problems linked to the digital transition, half of which were in the area of artificial intelligence. Finally, 14% were found to be relevant to climate policies and green solutions.
“This report refutes again the view that you have to tell researchers what to do because otherwise they’ll never get down to practical matters and urgent problems. Nothing is further from the truth! An impressive one-third of our projects contribute to health policies. Many are highly relevant to sustainability and digital solutions. So, my message to all research policy makers is: trust researchers and give them the means to pursue their best ideas! That’s the best investment in our future,” said ERC President Prof. Maria Leptin.
The factsheets also bring a number of interesting observations on the distribution of ERC-funded projects among EU member states and associated countries. For instance, whilst Germany is particularly strong in life sciences (LS) as well as physical sciences and engineering (PE), the UK and the Netherlands together host 40 % of all projects in social sciences and humanities. Some countries do very well in specific fields e.g., 21% of all projects in mathematics are hosted in France and 31% of the projects hosted in Poland are in computer science and informatics.
Explore "Mapping of ERC Frontier Research"
- Overview ERC Frontier Research in H2020 (PDF)
- Factsheets by domain
- Factsheet about projects funded under the Synergy Grant scheme
- Policy factsheets
- Mapping the frontiers of science - ERC Scientific Council editorial
The mapping was led by the ERC Scientific Council’s Working Group “Science behind the Projects” chair first by Prof. Michael Kramer from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Germany, and currently by Prof. Dirk Inzé from the Center for Plant Systems Biology of the VIB in Belgium. It is the second time the ERC has released such an analysis. In October 2014, the funder published a similar report covering research projects funded under the EU Seventh Framework Programme from 2007 to 2013. The report entitled “Science behind the Projects” provided a general overview of the research landscape, an analysis of cross-panel and cross-domain interactions, and an analysis of how the bottom-up research funded by the ERC contributes to European thematic policy priorities.
About the ERC
The ERC, set up by the European Union in 2007 and marking its 15th anniversary this year, is the premier European funding organisation for excellent frontier research. It funds creative researchers of any nationality and age, to run projects based across Europe. The ERC offers four core grant schemes: Starting Grants, Consolidator Grants, Advanced Grants and Synergy Grants. With its additional Proof of Concept Grant scheme, the ERC helps grantees to bridge the gap between their pioneering research and early phases of its commercialisation.
The ERC is led by an independent governing body, the Scientific Council. Since 1 November 2021, Maria Leptin is the President of the ERC. The overall ERC budget from 2021 to 2027 is more than €16 billion, as part of the Horizon Europe programme, under the responsibility of the European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, Mariya Gabriel.