Blog: The ERC - A European success story

13 March 2017

Joanna Burton, Russell Group's Policy Researcher writes about the importance of the European Research Council to Russell Group institutions and the UK.  


The ERC: A European Success Story

This week marks 10 years of the European Research Council (ERC).  Launched in 2007, the ERC was designed to revitalise the European research landscape and propel Europe towards becoming a true knowledge-based economy. Since then, it has spent more than €12 billion on curiosity-driven research and funded almost 7,000 research projects across the EU and beyond, making Europe the place for exceptional researchers to drive scientific breakthroughs and innovations which improve the lives of citizens around the world.

Russell Group universities are world-leaders in research, and the ERC has been of vital importance to their success.

Over the past ten years, our universities have won a big slice of the ERC’s birthday cake; 1,180 eminent researchers at Russell Group institutions have been awarded an ERC grant. That’s 80% of all ERC grants based in the UK.

As the Russell Group celebrates the many successes of the ERC, here are five reasons why it has been so valuable for UK and EU science:

Driving excellence through competition

The ERC awards large grants to researchers on a competitive basis, drawing from a wide pool of applicants from over 30 countries. Only the very best projects are funded and the competition is incredibly tough, making the ERC the gold standard of research excellence.

Pushing the boundaries of scientific discovery

The type of project funded by the ERC is characterised as being high-risk high-gain, frontier research projects which push the boundaries of scientific discovery. ERC projects contribute to scientific progress and underpin new breakthrough discoveries, the bedrock of innovations for the future. The flexible nature of ERC funding means that researchers have autonomy to put forward exciting new curiosity-driven project proposals without being constrained by pre-set priorities.

Attracting global talent to the UK

ERC grants are open to researchers of any nationality, of any age, from anywhere in the world, as long as projects are based primarily at an organisation in an EU or other eligible country. The globally-recognised and prestigious nature of ERC grants attracts talented overseas researchers to come to our universities and apply for grants, which then further enhances the UK’s science base. Nearly half (49%) of all ERC grantees at Russell Group institutions are from overseas, with two thirds of these coming from across Europe and a third from over 30 countries worldwide, including the US, Australia and India. The ERC brings talented scientists to the UK from every corner of the globe.

Supporting researchers at all stages of their career

The ERC supports researchers at all stages of their career, from young researchers holding their new PhDs right through to established research leaders with years of experience. This provides fantastic opportunity for bright young researchers to turbo-charge their research careers.

Research in a wide range of disciplines

ERC grants are awarded to researchers specialising in all fields of study, from astrophysics to zoology. This has been very important in supporting social sciences and humanities, which help to understand the world around us and enable society to adapt to new disruptive technologies and scientific progress. The UK is particularly well-placed to address these challenges, and has been awarded nearly a third of all ERC grants in social science and humanities disciplines.

Looking to the future

With the creation of the ERC, research in Europe has gone from strength to strength over the past decade. Nonetheless, our world is still faced unprecedented societal, environmental, political and economic challenges.

High quality, fundamental research which brings together exceptional talent from around the globe is needed now more than ever to address these challenges for future generations.

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