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In today's Morning Brief:

Implementation of Horizon Europe calls – a short analytical take from HE information days so far

The Horizon Europe information days are ongoing until the end of this week. It is already possible to highlight a few horizontal issues. The main thing that is recurrent in ALL European Commission presentations is the emphasis on the top-down dimension of the programme. The most repeated messages in this context are that “research doesn’t take place in a vacuum” and “it responds to societal challenges, destinations and social and economic missions”, “it should inform policy” and what makes some cringe is that only then it is mentioned “all this next to the excellence considerations…”.

“Agencies”, like the Research Executive Agency and others are the ones responsible for implementation and they are focused on monitoring policy horizontal considerations (impact, gender – funny enough there are non-gender relevant topics…, international cooperation, open science and others mentioned in the call, such as AI for example). An ethical review process is carried out systematically in all HE proposals.

Legal and financial details, such as involvement of third-parties is another field where differences with Horizon Europe are highlighted and the Executive Agencies pay particular attention to it.

In evaluation, apart from eligibility details (many and different across different calls), excellence and implementation, please start understanding and thinking about the so-called Key Impact Pathways (KIPs): in sum, how can your project contribute to the overall impact goals defined in the broader area of your topic. For example, think Major policy (i.e. Green Deal) which you can find in the Strategic Plan of Horizon Europe – Destination and Topics – Specific impacts of your project. But then, reverse engineer your thinking: how addressing those topic and project specific impacts can be contextualised in the broader impact of the destination and major policy context and how they can fit in with potential complementary projects. Do not confuse KIPs – Key Impact Pathways with KPIs – Key Performance Indicators. The latter should be used as output and project specific quantitative indicators. The former can be qualitative or quantitative and should provide a rationale for project AND policy implementation.

All of this has already been highlighted in the HUB presentations made available to all researchers in the form of PPTs and VIDEO in the HUB Private Area. Consult them here: https://hub.inesc.pt/private-area/folders/hub-training-workshops-and-materials/

ERC: new study shows institutional background is key

In the ERC training, organised by the HUB, that the R&I appointed managers and staff of the 5 INESCs are undergoing, we are told that when preparing an application, we should look closely at the evaluation panel and check who we know and who knows us and we should contact them. Crude reality. Well, this new study confirms this is crucial.

In March two Dutch researchers published an online analysis (PDF available in the HUB Private Area in the ERC folder) of a 2014 ERC Starting grants funding round, suggesting that applicants from the same universities or institutions as the European Research Council’s grant jurists were on average 40% more likely to win the grants.

Science Business reports that whether intentional or not, the researchers reported, it looks like “bias and particularism” in grant decisions. “This grant is very important and these panel members to a large extent are also top scientists. We did not think the effect would be that strong,” said van den Besselaar. Upon publication of the results in an article in Nature magazine, the ERC challenged the methodology of the researchers, suggesting they can’t reasonably draw such sweeping conclusions from one old and limited data set. While the ERC has commissioned several studies looking to improve its evaluation process, “this study is not a useful contribution due to its inherent methodological limits and analytical weaknesses,” the spokeswoman said.

“Increasingly the reputation of universities is important, not only for the university, but the people that work there. If you work in a top university your chances to get funded are much bigger,” van den Besselaar said. But by winning grants, a researcher’s status once again increases, leading to more grants – and the nearby-panellist effect may be contributing to it. To tackle the issue, van den Besselaar suggests the panels should reflect more on their final selection. If too many scientists from the same institution get grants, there should be a discussion on whether this is biased or not.

EU agreements on farming and cohesion open up research funding for agriculture and the regions

After months of negotiations, the budgets for regional development and agriculture over the next seven years have been approved by EU institutions, and both emerge from the legislative mills with significant sums earmarked for research. It still awaits formal approval by the Parliament, but EU agriculture ministers finally agreed to the €387 billion spending programme for agriculture on Monday, while last Friday the Parliament voted through the €373 billion cohesion policy. In addition to direct subsidies to farmers, approval for Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) from 2021 – 27 opens up targeted research and innovation funding through the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD). This money will be complemented by another €10 billion from Horizon Europe to fund research in food, agriculture, rural development and the bioeconomy.

International cooperation should be done on a mutual benefit basis

Mutual benefit and protecting the competitive advantage of EU’s R&I is the mantra. In this SB article, it is argued that “the Commission says in future it will base its rules for international scientific cooperation on the principle of open strategic autonomy. In particular, it is drawing up a roadmap on science and technology with China, in which it is seeking to impose stricter terms on cooperation, to ensure EU research organisations and companies can access the Chinese market safely, without needing to worry about potential IP breaches.”. Quantum technology is highlighted as one key area where this principle will be upheld, but this, as we have seen recently is a principle that is being applied to basically all non-EU countries with the exception of a few associated countries, but not all, the UK and Switzerland are, for different reasons feeling this heavily. Another highlighted area as strategically important is the microchip production knowledge and capacity. In sum, this is a reversion of Moedas’ policy of “Open to the World” into a policy of containment. The repercussions of all this are yet to be seen and many EU associations are already calling for caution against isolationism following a proposal from Romanian MEP Dan Nica (rapporteur for Horizon Europe) to make HE exclusively available to EU countries.

At the same time, in the US, a trend towards increased openness is taking place driven by the Democrat-led Congress, according this opinion article from Richard Hudson, Editor-in-Chief of Science Business. However, the policy does not seem that different from the EU’s policy, when trimmed to its essential. “R&D cooperation with proven allies” is the key phrase that binds the two policies together. The main thing to watch is how the EU will position itself in relation to China when considering its strategic interests and the fact that is also competing with the US, not only China…

The Portuguese presidency’s policy efforts (non-R&I)

It is quite telling that a (the?) major news outlet highlights the major dossiers that the PT Presidency managed to close during its Presidency finishing tomorrow, but does not mention research or innovation at all. In any case, it is a positive outlook from a Presidency that started with very low expectations due to the heavy, difficult dossiers and the lack of belief that a small country could do something to overturn them. The major highlight is undoubtedly the CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) agreement. Read the full outlook here.

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