On 11 May 2020, the Marie Curie Alumni Association (MCAA) conducted a survey to map the impact of COVID-19 on MSCA projects and issue recommendations to the European Commission on how to improve its response in resolving fellows’ issues. Until June 2020, out of approximately 9 500 MSCA-funded researchers in running projects, some 345 have responded.
The analysis of the answers received until June 2020 reveals that about half of the respondents (176/345) were not able to continue their projects remotely. The main reason was that lab or field work was not possible due to lockdown restrictions.
However, most of these respondents (120/176) had not contacted their project officer at the Research Executive Agency (REA) before answering the survey, thus several (65/120) asked for their case to be analysed. About 30% of respondents (107/345) contacted their project officer after experiencing a considerable negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their project. Of these, 17 indicated that their REA project officer’s reply solved their problem, whilst the rest (90/107) noted that their situation had not been adequately resolved as a result of their contact.
After receiving the results of the survey, the REA carefully examined the cases of the 65 fellows who asked for their cases to be analysed and contacted the 90 fellows for which a satisfactory solution had not been found to explain again the flexibility measures available and help them find an acceptable solution. Whilst all researchers concerned accepted the solutions proposed by the REA, 4 researchers (1 ITN doctoral candidate and 3 IF postdoctoral researchers) considered them insufficient and rejected them.
Regarding the possibility of using unspent institutional funds to maintain the salary of researchers, a majority 70% (239/345) of respondents did not know whether they would be able to repurpose such funds, whilst 12% (44/345) indicated that they would be able to reallocate them. However around 18% (62/345) indicated that they would not be able to do so, in the majority of cases (36/62) because not enough budget was available or approved by the institution or supervisor.
Aside from the survey launched by MCAA, REA’s project officers have been continuously in contact with all MSCA researchers who are experiencing difficulties because of the COVID-19 crisis, and have suggested solutions adapted to their situation.
Based on the survey, the MCAA recommended the following 3 actions to be taken by the European Commission:
- Make available and communicate a clearer support route and complaint system that allows all MSCA-funded researchers to report those issues that cannot be satisfactorily resolved with their host institution/supervisor.
- In coordination with MSCA NCPs, issue additional guidance on the possibility of repurposing of unspent institutional funds within MSCA projects.
- Analyse further the cases of fellows who report difficulties to identify the main reasons why these have not been resolved. Outcomes of this analysis can inform further action to increase the effectiveness of REA project officers’ support.
The European Commission and the REA have duly considered these recommendations and taken action to address them. Consult the Guidelines for MSCA fellows and project coordinators page for a full overview of the flexibility measures adopted to address the difficulties faced by researchers and institutions funded under the MSCA.