The last January 14th, the European Research Council (ERC) allocated 575 million euro within the first ERC Consolidator Grants competition: 312 grants for excellence research projects, with an average funding of about 1.84 million euro each.
The news has been reported by many newspapers for the important Italian success, 46 grants over 312, which put our country at the second place after Germany. However, as Marco Cattaneo points out, the conspicuous ‘made in Italy’ among the Consolidator Grants winner researchers is not necessarily synonymous of research made in Italy: even though there are 46 Italian grants, only 20 will ‘land’ in Italy, whilst the others will go abroad, to the host institutes where our researchers work. It then appears that the most significant parameter should not be the nationality of the researchers, but the nationality of the host institutes. In this sense, it is interesting to take a more general insight of Italy’s ranking in terms of ERC’s funding in the last 5 years (2009-2013). First, the Consolidator Grant Call is only one of the funding typologies allocated every year by ERC to which Italy participates. As from ERC data, in 2013 alone Italy won 28 grants, of which 8 Starting Grants, 19 Advanced Grants and 1 Proof of Concept.
Besides, as it appears from the graphs based once again on ERC data, in terms of host institutes Italy won on average in the last 5 years 5.5 percent of ERC Grants, with a maximum of 50 in 2012 and a minimum of 20 in 2013, if we exclude the just announced Consolidator Grants.
From 2009 up today, in fact, ERC has founded more than 2,000 Starting Grants with 1.5 million euro each for five years maximum, which have been allocated to researchers of any nationalities and with 2-7 years of experience after the PhD, and around 1,400 Advanced Grants, with 2.5 million euro each, reserved to independent researchers for more advanced projects. Also, from 2011 the ‘Proof of Concept’ Grants have been added and from 2012 the Synergy Grants too; the former (144 allocated up to date) have a maximum value of 150,000 euro each, and are destined to researchers who have already won an ERC Grant and need more funds to develop new aspects of their research, whilst the Synergy Grants (for a total of 24 over two years) make available 15 million euro for single projects, with the aim to allow small group of researchers to reunite expertise, knowledge and resources in order to face research issues unitedly. An interesting aspect that emerges from these statistics is the funding destination for research area. If we consider only Starting Grants – which constitute the major part of the funds – Italy has won 49 in the Physical Sciences and Engineering Area in the last five years, about one third of United Kingdom, Germany and France, ranking at the 8th place out of 26 participating countries. We are at the 11th place, on the other side, for Life Sciences, with 23 Grants against 133 of the United Kingdom and 113 of Germany. The situation is less dramatic in the Social Science and Humanities Area, where we are at the 5th place with 28 grants, a short distance from France, Germany and Holland.
But let’s have a look more in detail to the Italian host institutions that won ERC Grants (including Consolidator Grants) in the last five years. As it can be observed by the infographic, the golden medal goes to the university of Trento with 13 grants, of which seven in “Physics and Engineering”, five in “Social Sciences and Humanities” and one in “Life Sciences”. At the second place the CNR, that in the last five years has obtained 12 grants, 10 in “Physics and Engineering”, one in “Life Sciences” and one in “Social Sciences and Humanities”. The University of Rome, “Tor Vergata”, completes the podium with 11 grants awarded.
The numbers then appear to tell a story that needs to be improved yet. An overall look from outside our country to the Italian situation in the last five years seems in fact to dampen the enthusiasm of the first hour. As from the graph for grants won yearly by each country member per funding typology, the axis made up of United Kingdom, Germany and France has definitely no rival. If we exclude, as we did until now, the just assigned Consolidator Grants, Italy gets the 8th place for number of ERC Grants against 818 of the United Kingdom, 515 of Germany and 464 of France.