Oxford University has been awarded a grant of €56 million by the European Research Council (ERC) – the largest amount of new research funding in the UK.
The winners of the ERC’s latest Consolidator Grants Competition were announced on 10 December, the funding for this being a part of the EU’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.
Created to support innovative, high-impact research across academic disciplines, the ERC gives grants to outstanding scientists and top researchers working in Europe, and these grants are highly esteemed across the European academic community because they are awarded based solely on scientific excellence.
Awards worth €600 million went to 301 outstanding researchers across 24 countries. In 2019, Oxford researchers have won 31 awards, representing projects and researchers from all four academic divisions.
In the latest ERC funding round announcement, the University of Oxford received nine new ERC Consolidator Grants, the most awarded to any institution in the UK and second-most in Europe. ERC Consolidator Grants are awarded to outstanding researchers of any nationality and age, with seven to 12 years of experience since completion of PhD, and a promising scientific track record.
Professor Patrick Grant, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research, said: ‘We are proud of the success of our early career researchers in this recent round of highly competitive ERC funding. The level of funding support we receive from the ERC speaks to the calibre of researchers we are able to attract and who bring considerable prestige to the University. Teaching and research excellence is at the core of our mission, and in which ERC awards continue to play a valued and central role.’
The projects funded by the new grants range in topics from a variety of departments, including Physics, Chemistry, Anthropology, Music, Medicine and Earth Sciences.
Some of the award winners include Dr Gascia Ouzounian from the Faculty of Music, for a project looking at the sound of cities and how to harness the creative potential of sound to build healthier, more inclusive and more sustainable cities, Dr Dace Dzenovska from the Department of Anthropology who is researching the concept of ‘emptiness’ in relation to post-socialism villages and towns in the Latvian Russian borderlands, and Dr Sergi Padilla-Para from the Nuffield Department of Medicine who is studying antibody responses to aid rational vaccine design for HIV.
But the awards are not without controversy as the policy of focusing purely on excellence means wealthier and better-resourced institutions reap the greatest benefits.
Institutions in countries like Germany, the UK, France and the Netherlands receive large amounts of funding from the ERC, prompting the question of how it can be possible for less economically developed countries to catch up academically to their richer counterparts.
Some grants were awarded to Europe’s less wealthy central and eastern countries. Zaroui Pogossian at the Central European University in Hungary, for example, received an award to support her research on cultural interactions in the medieval Caucasus, Anatolia and northern Mesopotamia.
Yet, the success of Oxford and other wealthy, Western European institutions may be indicative of a larger political problem.
Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, acknowledged the need to examine this issue, saying: “The EU’s investment in frontier research is an investment in our future, which is why it is so important that we reach an agreement on an ambitious Horizon Europe budget for the next multiannual budget. More available research funding would also allow us to create more opportunities everywhere in the EU – excellence should not be a question of geography.”