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Fundamental research

03 - 08 - 2016

The European Research Council (ERC), a donor with innovative evaluation methods

The reluctance to finance fundamental research is generally based on the lack of impact studies of these studies. But this year, the ERC, a financial contributor of European Union research programs, had decided to retrospectively evaluate the success of the projects it funds. An approach quite innovative for the specific field that is fundamental research, but it appears essential to justify the funding of around 1.7 billion euros and the high risks being taken. 



On the 26th of July, as part of the European Science Open Forum in Manchester, Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, Chairman of the ERC, hence reviewed 199 completed projects. Three quarters of them were considered to have generated a major scientific achievement.


In practice, the ERC has set up groups of experts that judge the achievements using the traditional bibliometric method, but have also expressed their opinion in light of their professional experience. According to them, 43 programs have enabled a breakthrough, 99 have resulted in a major breakthrough. Only 7 projects did not present positive reports. Better yet, 10% of this research has had some impact on the economy. These statistics are well above those currently obtained by start-up programs !


The next step will be to assess some 250 projects annually, in order to calmly prepare for the next financing program planned for 2021. Changes in the assessments may lead to consider more objective criteria. This first evaluation exercise has cost € 200,000, a small amount compared to the annual ERC financial commitments and the 9.8 billion already allocated to projects since its creation in 2007.


In the end, the ERC appears to be a key player for any laureate of this fund, in terms of visibility and notoriety. A third of the project candidates concern the life sciences. 


For further information:

Quantitative evaluation of completed projects funded by ERC