Of the 743 researchers granted funding from the European Research Council, only 16 are associated with Swedish institutions.
Horizon 2020

Sweden’s part of ERC funds decreases

Svenska 2015-09-22

By July 2015, around SEK 70 billion had been distributed by Horisont 2020. Almost 3.6 percent of the money has gone to Sweden – a somewhat smaller proportion than the previous framework programme. The distribution from the European Research Council shows a decrease in the Swedish share.

January 2014 saw the launch of the research and innovation programme Horizon 2020. The results from the first 117 calls are now available.

A total of almost SEK 70 billion (EUR 7.36 billion) has been contracted. The largest part of the money has gone to Germany, followed by the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands and Belgium. Sweden sits in eighth place. Our Nordic neighbours follow closely behind; Denmark coming in tenth, Finland in twelfth and Norway in fifteenth place.

Greater competition

Sweden has received SEK 2.5 billion, which corresponds to 3.6 percent of the total funds. This is somewhat less than was previously allocated. In the previous framework programme, an average of around four per cent of the money came to Sweden.

“There’s greater competition for funds on a European level today, and more people who are applying as many EU countries have cut down their own research budgets,” explains Linda Bell, Head of the EU Relations Unit at Vinnova.

She points out that the programme is also partly different to the previous framework programme.

“One difference is that the proportion allocated to the European Research Centre is larger. For Horizon 2020’s first year of calls, members of ERC account for around 15 percent of the programme’s budget.

Just 16 of 743 researchers

The European Research Council, ERC, supports cutting-edge research. Grants allocated to individual researchers in accordance with a single selection criterion: scientific excellence.

However, few grants have gone to researchers at Swedish institutions thus far under Horizon 2020, and this has had a major impact on the overall outcome for Sweden.

Of the 743 researchers granted funding, only 16 are associated with Swedish institutions. This corresponds to little over two per cent of the researchers receiving grants and just under two per cent of allocated funds.

“These are small figures, and it’s difficult to pick out trends. But we’re showing a slight downward curve. It’s both difficult to explain and somewhat concerning that Swedish researchers are not performing better in the competition,” says Karin Schmekel of the Ministry of Education and Research, who is a Swedish member of the Programme Committee for the ERC.

During the previous framework programme, the Swedish share of funds from the European Research Council decreased from 5.3 percent to 3.6 in 2013.

Negative trend

This negative trend has not been broken under Horizon 2020. Furthermore, the Swedish success rate in ERC calls has been low; little over half the EU average.

“The success rate doesn’t provide an accurate picture; in England, for example, there are universities with a system where they sift out applications which are not good enough,” Karin Schmekel explains.

She believes that one explanation for the negative trend in Sweden is that ERC grants are seen as something very exclusive here, and a great honour to receive.

“This prevents researchers from applying because they don’t believe they are good enough. And the good examples are not so well-known – ERC gets very little coverage in the papers and on television in Sweden compared with other successful research nations of Europe.

The same institutes at the top

The organisations in Sweden that by June this year had received the most money from Horizon 2020 are KTH, followed by Lund University, Chalmers University of Technology, Karolinska Institutet and Uppsala University. It is also these institutes which were most successful in the Seventh Framework Programme, though the order was somewhat different then.

“Swedish researchers at well-funded institutions should in the long-term have a greater capacity to compete. Where the collaborative opportunities under Horizon 2020 are concerned, Swedish applicants have the advantage of having often worked in cross-sectoral projects – where for example academia, the public sector and industry work together to solve problems,” Linda Bell tells us.

Text: Siv Engelmark
Photo: Photo Researchers / IBL Bildbyrå


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  • Henrik Alfredsson

    In a very Swedish way no one wants to clearly state the single most important reason for the decline of Swedish frontline research as can be seen from the decrease of ERC grants. Similar findings of a decline were found in the report by Gunnar Öquist and Mats Benner in the KVA report ”Fostering breakthrough research: A comparative study” from December 2012.And what is that most single important reason? The answer is obvious, but not politically correct: The promotion reform (Befordringsreformen). This reform made the universities overpopulated by underfinanced, but well paid, professors. And not only the professors are well paid but also the graduate students, which means that today, if you are not part of a special area that gets funding directly from the government, you can only manage to have a small research group. And even then you have to constantly fight to get enough external funding to support it and you also need to do quite a lot of “bread-and-butter” research. Carl Tham who was the responsible minister wanted to break the dominance of the ”old” professors - as a political project this was most successful!


  • Staffan Strömblad

    Henrik Alfredsson's analysis is spot on! The big question for all of us; researchers, universities and politicians, is how could we turn this around?I think the only way is to perform a bottom-up analysis of what it takes for the actually producing units, the individual research groups, to become or remain internationally competitive. Then, the research financing system should be dimensioned and designed accordingly.However, unfortunately it appears that politicians and universities alike often are only able to take on a top-down perspective, creating destructive trends in research financing and grandiose plans that are most often not cost-efficient.


  • Prefer to be anonymous

    I have a minor opinion: Why should old professors apply for ERC, if they can cut the VR cake by themself? :) No stress, push-me-pull-you etc.


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