Some very encouraging noises from The European Research Council in its recently-published position paper.
The ERC was established in 2007 to complement the funding of basic research at national level, which was thought to be insufficient to allow Europe to compete at a world level. It is now doing a sort of round-up of the successes and areas for improvement so far.
The position paper explains that the perceived dichotomy between “basic” and “applied” research has long been considered obsolete. Later, it notes that there very often exists “a tension exists between public expectations of short-term results with immediate benefits for society and the insistence of researchers that in frontier research the outcome cannot be predicted”. This all makes familiar reading for those of us who have been used to struggling with the composition of pages-long statements of impact.
There is more good news to readers based in a country whose government is intent on closing the door to international students. One of the two key goals of the ERC is to increase substantially the number of excellent researchers from outside Europe wanting to work here, whether they be of European origin or not. The other is to increase the number of women scientists among ERC awardees. There is still some way to go on the latter – see pages 4 and 7 of the Starter Grant 2010 statistics.
The paper ends with the remark that “while the ERC is currently covering a much wider area of frontier research than the US National Science Foundation (NSF), its current annual budget is less than half of the funds dispersed towards research grants by the latter in 2010, representing a small percentage of EU annual public research expenditure.” The report thus argues for a doubling of the ERC’s annual budget, to a level of around €4bn per year. of course, I write this on the day that the eurozone’s big banks meet to refine their plans for a second bailout of Greece, so maybe things are not looking too likely.
Cambridge Classicist Mary Beard notes that she has “moved from a degree of uncertainty about this Euro Research Enterprise to being a huge supporter of it. (Thank God for the EU whose reaction the recession is to plough money into research, not take money away from it.)”