UK holders of European Research Council funding say they have been inundated with approaches from continental universities after being given a two-month ultimatum to move to an eligible institution or risk losing the grant.
Around 150 UK-based academics who have been awarded Starter, Consolidator and Advanced Grants were contacted by the ERC on 8 April, informing them that they had “the opportunity to secure the eligibility of their proposal by transferring to a new qualifying legal entity”. ”.
The letter adds that “if we do not hear from you within two months of receipt of this letter… you will be deemed to have declined this opportunity, which will result in the rejection of your proposal,” but notes that it will extend the “exceptional” time limit. , justified cases”.
ERC chair Maria Leptin tweeted that ‘no one here wants to urge anyone to leave’, but researchers are now thought to be debating whether to move their projects to keep the prestigious funding or accept the UK’s guarantee to provide replacement funding from national budgets. .
The UK still seems no closer to joining Horizon Europe, with the stalemate caused by Brexit wrangling over the Northern Ireland Protocol now exacerbated by the war in Ukraine and the UK election. and in France.
Thiemo Fetzer, professor of economics at the University of Warwick, said he had been contacted by 10 EU-based institutions in the week since receiving his letter, all offering to host his EU-funded project. CER which examines the frictions between national media agendas and tackling transnational issues such as climate change, political instability and terrorism.
He said he felt EU institutions felt there was a window of opportunity to induce UK-based researchers to move their grants before projects were fully operational, which would be currently quite easy to do.
Professor Fetzer said he was still willing to accept the money which was pledged by UK Research and Innovation as a stopgap measure for anyone at risk of losing funding due to the Horizon impasse, but added that he there were a number of uncertainties, including whether he would be able to run a transnational project from the UK and hire staff not currently based in the country, which he said was now “almost impossible”.
“There is no precedent for this subsidy guarantee to be triggered,” he said. “It could work very well, but not knowing creates uncertainty. It could turn the grant into something very rigid, very tied to UK institutional rules and constraints and so people are rightly worried about whether the warranty will actually provide, as close to a substitute as possible,” Prof Fetzer said.
“I haven’t made my decision. At this stage, I am researching offers on the mainland to see what might be on offer there and I am also studying all the measures to be able to benefit from the guarantee in case no option is suitable. And I think that’s what a lot of people are doing now; it’s the safest thing to do.
ERC rules state that successful applicants to grant competitions must be based in associated countries at the time of signing their grant agreement, and an ERC spokesperson said the letters were a ” expected development” as the indicative dates for signing grant agreements are approaching.
He said the ERC must act “to be able to potentially offer funding to researchers initially put on the reserve lists, and to have enough time to prepare and sign grants until the end of 2022, which is the legal deadline for this funding cycle”.
Another UK-based researcher who received the letter and wished to remain anonymous said he was now actively considering transferring his grant and was in talks with two other institutions.
They said they were ‘not surprised but still very moved’ to receive the letter as they hoped a deadlocked resolution would come before they had to sign the deal, but it ‘now appears to be an almost an outcome. impossible”.