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The Executive Agency for the European Research Council manages EU programmes on research.
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 complements other funding activities in Europe such as those of the national research funding agencies, and is a flagship component of Horizon Europe, the European Union’s Research Framework Programme for 2021 to 2027.
Being ‘investigator-driven’, or ‘bottom-up’, in nature, the ERC approach allows researchers to identify new opportunities and directions in any field of research, rather than being led by priorities set by politicians. This ensures that funds are channelled into new and promising areas of research with a greater degree of flexibility.
ERC grants are awarded through open competition to projects headed by starting and established researchers, irrespective of their origins, who are working or moving to work in Europe. The sole criterion for selection is scientific excellence. The aim here is to recognise the best ideas, and confer status and visibility on the best brains in Europe, while also attracting talent from abroad.
However, the ERC aims to do more than simply fund research.
In the long term, it looks to substantially strengthen and shape the European research system. This is done through high quality peer review, the establishment of international benchmarks of success, and the provision of up-to-date information on who is succeeding and why.
The hope is that these processes will help universities and other research institutions gauge their performance and encourage them to develop better strategies to establish themselves as more effective global players.
By challenging Europe’s brightest minds, the ERC expects that its grants will help to bring about new and unpredictable scientific and technological discoveries – the kind that can form the basis of new industries, markets, and broader social innovations of the future.
Ultimately, the ERC aims to make the European research base more prepared to respond to the needs of a knowledge-based society and provide Europe with the capabilities in frontier research necessary to meet global challenges.
ERC in a Nutshell
The ERC aims to:
- Support the best of the best in Europe across all fields of science, scholarship and engineering
- Promote wholly investigator-driven, or ‘bottom-up’ frontier research
- Encourage the work of the established and next generation of independent top research leaders in Europe
- Reward innovative proposals by placing emphasis on the quality of the idea rather than the research area
- Raise the status and visibility of European frontier research and the very best researchers of today and tomorrow
What is ‘frontier research’ and what are its benefits?
Today the distinction between ‘basic’ and ‘applied’ research has become blurred, due to the fact that emerging areas of science and technology often cover substantial elements of both. As a result, the term ‘frontier research’ was coined for ERC activities since they will be directed towards fundamental advances at and beyond the ‘frontier’ of knowledge.
The ERC aims to bring about a wide range of benefits in the following ways:
- By creating open and direct competition for funding between the very best researchers in Europe, the ERC will enhance aspirations and achievements. It will enable the best ideas and talents to be recognised from a larger pool than exists at national level.
- The ERC’s competitive funding will be able to channel funds into the most promising new fields, with a degree of agility not always possible in national funding schemes.
- The ERC aims to stimulate research organisations to invest more in the support of promising new talents – the next generation of research leaders in Europe.
- On the economic side, the ERC will help nurture science-based industry and create a greater impetus for the establishment of research-based spin-offs.
- From a societal perspective, the ERC could provide a mechanism for investing rapidly in research targeted at new and emerging issues confronting society.