The process of evaluating and selecting the replies to the first round of calls for proposals issued by the Commission during the first half of 2003 is now complete. As the financing contracts are finalised, we take an initial look at the results, especially for the new instruments – integrated projects and networks of excellence – deployed for the seven major research priorities.
This first wave of calls for proposals (published between December 2002 and May 2003) received a budget of some € 5 billion or nearly 30% of the total budget of € 17.5 billion available for the period 2002-2006. The European research players certainly responded in strength to this initial invitation under the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6): the Commission received more than 11 600 replies involving more than 100 000 cross-border research teams. These partnerships not only included teams from the enlarged European Union – the accession/candidate countries were represented in 40% of the projects submitted – but also from some 25 other countries whose teams were active in almost one-fifth of the proposals.
New instruments put to the test The calls covered all the fields envisaged by FP6. Excluding the 4 720 applications for support granted by the Union in the field of the Marie Curie Actions, as well as the replies to various categories of specific aid(1), the proposals related to 4 630 research projects involving 70 000 participants within the FP6 thematic priorities.
Many of them – between a third and a half depending on the sectors – were for 'traditional' projects (Specific Targeted Research Projects (STREP) and Coordination Actions), as well as Specific Support Actions (SSA).
However – and it is here that the results of this first call for proposals under FP6 were so eagerly awaited – the interest shown in the new instruments, namely the Integrated Projects (IP)(2) and Networks of Excellence (NoE), was undeniable.
IP & NoE in 2003: breakdown of the 161 projects selected per priority(1) (1) Excluding the Information society technologies priority
IP: Integrated Project NoE: Network of Excellence
IP & NoE in 2003: breakdown of financing of € 1883 million per priority(1) (1) Excluding the Information society technologies priority
IP: Integrated Project NoE: Network of Excellence
Integrated Projects: € 1.3 billion For six of the priority themes,(3) 104 IPs were selected, representing a total financial participation by the Union of almost € 1 240 million. Genomics and health (38 projects receiving a total of € 359 million for 853 participants), and Nanosciences, materials and production processes (14 projects, € 192 million, 448 participants) led the field in terms of size.
A closer look at the critical mass achieved by the IPs, as regards Community participation and financing, shows that the highest levels were achieved by Aeronautics and space (eight projects with 43 participants on average and an average funding request of € 21 million), Food quality and safety (six projects – average size 48, average funding € 13 M) and Transport (eight projects – average size 30, average funding € 20 M).
The concept of IPs therefore seems to have been well received by European research circles who managed to mobilise bigger teams around better coordinated goals than during previous Framework Programmes.
Launching the networks With a total of 57 Networks of Excellence (NoE) selected for total EU funding of € 540 million, the second of the new instruments got off to a less impressive start. Designed to coordinate and optimise an increased European dynamic in the development of the knowledge society and economy, by their very nature they are more difficult to launch.
Once again, the highest level of participation is found in the fields of Genomics and health (15 NoE for a total funding of € 124 M and 616 participants, producing a high average figure of 41 participants per network), and the Nanosciences, materials and production processes (17 NoE, € 111 M and 384 participants). A record 183 participants were mobilised by the four research networks selected in the field of Transport. In terms of finance, € 188 million was awarded to two NoE in the field of Aeronautics and space, bringing together 66 mainly industrial participants.
However, overall, and compared with the involvement in IPs, industrial participation in the networks was somewhat disappointing. The interest shown in this new instrument came predominantly from academic and public research circles.
(1) Support for Union policy in the field of prospective scientific and technological studies; international co-operation; co-operation with national research activities; research infrastructures; science and society. (2) The exact data on IP and NoE in the Information Society Technologies priority are not included in this analysis. In all the categories combined, the call which closed in this field in the first half of 2003 attracted some 1 600 project proposals. The total request for Community funding was over € 6 billion (for an available budget of € 1 billion); 236 projects were finally selected. (3) 1. Genomics and health; 2. Nanosciences, materials and production processes; 3. Aeronautics and space; 4. Food quality and safety; 5. Sustainable development and global change (analysed under three sub-priorities: Energy, Transport, Climate and Ecosystems); 6. Citizens and governance; 7. Euratom (nuclear research).
Too much success?
It is a common finding: calls for proposals issued by European research programmes often meet with a considerable over-response. In all the categories combined, the 4 000 research projects or so submitted represented a request for Community ...
Small and medium-sized enterprises represented 17% of the participants and 13% of the financing for the selected projects in the priority research fields. Although many SMEs were partners in the IPs (but much more rarely in the NoE), they tended ...
It is a common finding: calls for proposals issued by European research programmes often meet with a considerable over-response. In all the categories combined, the 4 000 research projects or so submitted represented a request for Community funding equal to almost the total available budget for the entire five- year period. Only 700 of these could be selected. Certain sectors are more prone than most to this excessive demand, such as information society technologies (almost 1 600 proposals representing more than 21 000 participants), the nanosciences and production technologies (1 000 proposals and 22 000 partners), the life sciences, sustainable development, and global change.
'The number and variety of responses to the first calls for proposals are encouraging. They indicate the enthusiasm of researchers and companies and their desire to pool their resources at European level,' stresses Philippe Busquin, European Commissioner responsible for research. 'But our budget, however significant it may be, is just 5% of total research spending in Europe.'
This over-response enables evaluators to select the best and thus provides a guarantee of high quality. On the other hand, it means excluding some good projects, into which a lot of time and money was invested during the preparation – especially in the case of the new instruments. Consequently, Philippe Busquin would like the quality of certain projects – which it was not possible to select – to be highlighted so that they can attract other sources of national or multinational funding.
But are there any other solutions to this over-response? Given the express desire to generate projects with a sufficient critical mass, there can certainly be no question of increasing the number of projects selected by inviting the researchers to make a downward revision of their costs and research ambitions. On the other hand, more 'focused' information in the work programmes – which are the basis for calls, as well as two-stage procedures for calls for expressions of interest – and project proposals are certainly ways of avoiding the submission of projects that are insufficiently suited to the programme objectives.
Small and medium-sized enterprises represented 17% of the participants and 13% of the financing for the selected projects in the priority research fields. Although many SMEs were partners in the IPs (but much more rarely in the NoE), they tended to be concentrated in the traditional projects (STREP) which have specific ambitions that are more usual. The now tried-and-tested formula of co-operative research (CRAFT) received some 850 proposals involving around 9 000 SMEs.