Frontier-led research, the ERC and the role of university communities in securing their future
On 1 June 2017, the President of the University of Tübingen, Bernd Engler, hosted a discussion with 90 representatives of member universities of the Guild, and Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, President of the European Research Council (ERC). Bourguignon urged university communities to be vigilant in defending frontier-led science, asking university presidents and academic leaders to articulate the importance of excellent research to citizens, Members of the European Parlament, national politicians and the media.
The ERC is one of the most prestigious funding instruments for research in the world. Since 2007, grantees have received six Nobel Prizes, four Fields Medals and five Wolf Prizes, among others. Based on the Council’s undeniable contribution to European societies and global scholarship, Bourguignon stressed the need to increase the ERC’s budget to ensure that more talent can be supported. “Presently, a string of excellent candidates with exceptional ideas cannot be funded – purely for budgetary reasons,” he stated in a recent ERC newsletter.
In a wide-ranging discussion, Bourguignon and Guild members agreed on the need to collaborate to connect with citizens, researchers and national policymakers, and to reform administrative rules that hinder application processes in some countries. They also emphasised the significance of the ERC for innovation based on excellent science, and the need for interdisciplinary research, which will be aided by the reintroduction of Synergy Grants in 2018. This underlined the Guild’s concern to foreground excellence and collaboration as the key principles for added value of EU-funded research, as Europe provides a unique setting for transdisciplinary collaboration across borders.
The discussion about frontier-led science and innovation, and their significance to policy-making, affirmed the importance of researchers to be agenda-setting through excellent science, in their research-led teaching, and by providing the basis for informed public debates. Above all, it confirmed the ERC as an essential ally for attracting and retaining the best scientists in Europe and overseas.