HE: Tips for FCTNOVA Applicants

What is the Horizon Europe Programme?

In 2021, the Horizon Europe (HE) programme succeeded the Horizon 2020 programme. It began with a budget of € 95.5 billion to invest in innovative projects. The aim is to invest in a fair and prosperous future for people based on European Values. To achieve this, Horizon Europe will strengthen the connection between scientific and technological innovation, while tackling key societal challenges set out in the Sustainable Development Goals. The goal is to increase European leadership in innovation and entrepreneurship, through world-class research. Additionally, it removes barriers to development and enables public and private sectors to work together in delivering innovations. 

HORIZON EUROPE

Horizon Europe’s underlying premise relies on the contribution of multiple stakeholders contributing to scientific excellence across a broad range of focus areas, divided across 3 pillars: Excellent Science, Global Challenges and European Industrial Competitiveness, and Innovative Europe. Each pillar has specific calls for grants and tenders connected to it.

This quick guide will provide a brief overview of each pillar, to  help you become more familiar with the overall goals of HE.

Who is eligible for funding?

The Excellent Science pillar consists of three main calls “Reinforcing & extending the excellence of the Union’s science base”

European Research Council (ERC) Funding frontier research designed and driven by the best researchers in Europe. ERC has a total budget of €1.9 billion in 2021 and €2.4 billion in 2022. The ERC grants are intended to fund excellent science and are open for researchers at different career stages. The program consists of 5 different grants: Starting, Consolidator, Advanced, Synergy and Proof of Concept.

Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) The program funds individual fellowships and supports mobility of researchers internationally. Deadlines for 2021 and 2022 have been published for the MSCA Doctoral Networks, Postdoctoral Fellowship, Staff Exchange, COFUND, and MSCA and Citizens (European Researchers’ Night) grants. The budget for 2021 is €817M, and for 2022 is €874M.

Research Infrastructures (RI) Funding new world-class research infrastructures. The work programme supports research communities to conduct research and foster innovation in their field. The total budget for 2021 is €289M, and for 2022 is €318M

Global Challenges & European Industrial Competitiveness “Boosting key technologies and solutions underpinning EU policies & Sustainable Development Goals” Pillar 2 includes six clusters each with their own area of intervention and specific funding calls, plus the non-nuclear direct actions of the Joint Research Centre. The budgets and deadlines for 2021-2022 have been published.

Health. Areas of intervention: health throughout the life course; Noncommunicable and rare diseases; Tools, technologies and digital solutions for health and care, including personalised medicine; Environmental and social health determinants; Infectious diseases, including poverty related and neglected disease; Health care systems.

Culture, Creativity, and Inclusive Society. Areas of intervention: Democracy and Governance; Social and economic transformations; Culture, cultural heritage and creativity.

Civil security for society. Areas of intervention: Disaster-resilient societies; Protection and Security; Cybersecurity.

Digital, Industry and Space. Areas of intervention: Manufacturing technologies; Advanced materials; Next generation internet; Circular industries; Space, including Earth Observation; Emerging enabling technologies; Key digital technologies, including quantum technologies; Artificial Intelligence and robotics; Advanced computing and Big Data Low-carbon and clean industry; Emerging enabling technologies.

Climate, Energy and Mobility. Areas of intervention: Climate science and solutions; Energy systems and grids; Communities and cities; Industrial competitiveness in transport; Smart mobility; Energy supply; Buildings and industrial facilities in energy transition; Clean, safe and accessible transport and mobility; Energy storage.

Food, Bioeconomy, Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment. Areas of intervention: Environmental observation; Agriculture, forestry and rural areas; Circular systems; Food systems; Biodiversity and natural resources; Seas, oceans and inland waters; Biobased innovation systems in the EU; Bioeconomy.

Joint Research Centre. Supporting policymakers, both European and national, with independent scientific evidence and support.

Innovative Europe pillar “Stimulating market-creating breakthroughs and ecosystems conducive to innovation”. The third pillar consists of three different entities:

European Innovation Council (EIC) Focus on market-creating innovation and SME growth. The EIC work programme has been published, and includes the EIC Pathfinder, EIC Transition and EIC Accelerator. EIC has a total budget of €10 billion for the period of 2021-2027.

European Innovation Ecosystems Connecting with regional and national actors to improve the overall innovation ecosystem across Europe. Ecosystems should become more connected and efficient. The work programme has been published with a total budget of €60M for 2021, and €69.8M for 2022.

European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) Focusing on integrating research, higher education, business and entrepreneurship. EIT is an independent EU body that supports entrepreneurial talent and innovative ideas through specific calls for proposals. HORIZONTAL FOCUS Widening Participation and Strengthening the European Research Area “Optimising strengths & potential for a more innovative Europe ”

Widening Participation and Spreading Excellence: Encouraging teaming & twinning, cooperation in science and technology (COST), ERA chairs continue to bring excellence to institutions in Widening countries with potential for research excellence, support to NCPs, brain circulation and excellence initiatives. It includes two new additions, the Hop On Facility and the Excellence Hubs. The total budget is €456.3M for 2021 and €478.45M for 2022.

Reforming and enhancing the European R&I system Building scientific evidence & foresight, continuation of the Horizon Policy Support Facility, promoting Open Science, attractive researcher careers, citizen science, Responsible Research & Innovation, and gender equality.

 

General tips and hints for engaging with EU-funded programmes – From Proposals to Projects

Identifying the Correct Call

It all starts with choosing the correct call. The chances of getting funding increases when applying for grants best suited for your research. But how do you make sure it’s the right fit?

  • Eligibility Criteria – The first question is: “Am I eligible?”. Horizon Europe has different types of calls, each with varying requirements. These include Research & Innovation Actions (RIA), Innovation Actions (IA) and Coordination and Support Actions (CSA’s). As a general rule, all European legal entities are eligible to apply.
  • Financial Considerations

In order to determine whether your project fits the grant, consider the following questions: Is the funding offer what you are looking for? Is the budget sufficient to fund your project? Are you able to co-finance the amount of money required for this project, and are you allowed to cofinance this in-kind? What are the eligible costs for the grant? Can you pay salaries, get equipment and consumables from the grant? Are your overheads eligible for this specific funding opportunity?

Knowing the answer to these questions helps you to select the right grant. But keep in mind, it can still be a very complex process, influenced by many factors – both internal and external to your research.

Next step: reading the call text the right way

  • Reading the Call Carefully

READING IS KEY! ‘Reading’ increases your chances of getting funded. A call text describes all the information that needs to be included in your perfect proposal. Reading it properly increases your chances of getting funded. A typical RIA/CSA/IA call is carefully built in the same structure throughout the entire Work Programme.

These are the components you’ll find:

The Title is the first hint of the topic. Ask yourself: ‘does it provide information about which societal challenge or goals my project falls under? Does the title provide me with information on the scope of the call?’

The Expected Impact describes the envisioned results from the project once executed. It provides a more defined description, which is to the point and more specific compared to the scope description.

The Scope gives information on how the European Commission would see this problem solved, which topics should be addressed, or what type of activities should be performed. Also described in the scope is information about what consortium members should be included or if a collaboration should be built with specific organisations or previously funded projects.

The Type of Call provides information on what conditions and funding rules apply to this specific tender. For example, there is a difference in co-finance requirements and consortium requirements between RIA, IA and CSA.

BUILDING STRONG PARTNERSHIPS

  • A winning consortium

A strong, complementary, and often large multi-partner consortium that addresses all ambitious objectives is key for a winning proposal. This is how you build one:

– Start on time! Getting the right consortium partners on board is a lengthy and challenging process. Establishing a consortium is one thing but managing all partners during the preparation phase and aligning their interests into one coherent project plan is trickier.

– Consider your “ideal” partners. A strong consortium (usually) has the following characteristics:

  • Complementary. Each partner should have a unique role and bring in a special, required expertise or technology.
  • Combine different roles and expertise to ensure you will be able to deliver the work and avoid redundancy.
  • Interdisciplinary. To tackle outstanding challenges, collaborations need to connect viewpoints and knowledge. Going beyond a single discipline and combining partners from various disciplines is essential.
  • Balanced. Think about aspects like geographical spread of the partners and balance between profit and nonprofit partners. Pay attention to the gender balance of key investigators involved.
  • A strong consortium brings together the brightest minds in their various key disciplines. Therefore, identify the true key opinion leaders (KOLs) within your field or topics.

– Establish a core consortium with high excellence Key Steps:

  • Build a strong consortium of partners with complementary expertise that are renowned KOLs within a specific field and establish a core consortium with them. This is more pragmatic compared to bringing in a large consortium on your own.
  • Ensure that all expertise is covered in the consortium to perform the activities, including patient and end user associations.
  • Build consortia that include relevant geographical areas in the EU.
  • Have an established expert on board to help pull in other excellent parties and boost your profile.
  1. Develop your exceptional plan together.  With this core consortium you want to further outline the scope, main objectives and work-plan of the project. In order to maintain a clear sense of direction, a basic Action Plan and consensus need to be generated through which you can ensure the commitment of the key partners in strengthening  your project.

– Bring in your final partners. Start by building the rest of the consortium from this core, having a clear vision on this project. Use your network to approach key players in establishing your consortium.

WRITING A HIGH-QUALITY PROPOSAL

High-Quality Proposal

  1. Writing clearly and concisely will help you. How do you write down exactly what you mean? First, start each paragraph with the conclusion of that idea. Second, following this conclusion, focus on writing sentences that support the conclusion only. Then apply the same steps to the rest of the proposal to ensure concise writing.
  2. Minimise the time the reviewer spends on reading. Take into account that reviewers must go through a large number of proposals. Get straight to the point. For example, it is not always necessary to explain a medical problem in detail if everybody already knows that a given disease is deadly. Knowing what to cut out and what to elaborate on is vital. Visual aids (flowcharts, tables or diagrams) can help reviewers to quickly understand key points for your project.

  3. Address the topic and the aims of the scope. Nobody gives away free money just for the fun of it. Everyone providing a subsidy has some goal with it, and if you want that money, you need to ensure your proposal addresses that goal. No matter how innovative your idea is, and how beneficial it may be, if it does not match with the scope of the subsidy tender, you will receive that dreaded rejection letter.

  4. Submit on time. The application process can become overwhelming. Efforts to align the proposed work plan may need additional time. Also, additional documentation may be needed in the project application portal. As an applicant, it is easy to underestimate the time needed for the portal preparation and project submission. Keep in mind that on the day of the deadline, portals are often overloaded with applications resulting in longer uploads. The best way to avoid missing your deadline is to submit at least 48 hours before the deadline.
  • Your funding is granted! What’s next?

FUNDING GRANTED!

WHAT’S NEXT?

Congratulations! You have been awarded a Horizon Europe grant. Before you can start to work on the project you have to finish the last preparation steps of the so-called ‘grant agreement phase’. This phase must be finished within a strict time frame set out by the European Commission (EC). During the grant agreement phase, you must provide necessary documentation and finish the grant agreement document. The grant agreement consists of the formal agreements between the EC and the project consortium, the timeline and budget of the project and the description of the action.

PROPOSALS EVALUATION: WHAT’S NEW IN HORIZON EUROPE

Key differences between Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe proposal evaluation

You put together a winning consortium, developed strong ideas and wrote them down using logical arguments connected to even more logical action points. 

Now the time has come. You must upload your masterpiece to the Funding and Tenders Portal. You’re excited but also nervous. And you know you won’t hear back any news in at least three months from the moment you pressed OK on the submission button. 

But what happens in the meantime? During this excruciating wait, your proposal goes through a thorough, analytical check to make sure it deserves to be funded. 

The evaluation criteria

The proposal template changed, and so has the evaluation criteria. One tip: pay attention to the highlighted keywords on the European Commission slide (Figure 1).

Key differences from Horizon 2020 to Horizon Europe:

  • Objectives are merged with the ambition (how to go beyond the state-of-the art) 
  • Gender dimensionand open science practices have a separate evaluation question under Excellence 
  • The pathway logicand the narrative that supports this logic is crucial in the Impact section
  • Both the aspects concerning individual participantsand the consortium as a whole are evaluated based on section 3.2

Interaction with applicants

The interview step is included in some evaluation procedures (ERC and EIC schemes) to increase the system’s robustness and credibility. This is excellent news for ERC applicants. 

Blind first-stage evaluation

Blind first-stage evaluation is a procedure that was commonly used in earlier framework programmes, and it might make a come-back in Horizon Europe. For the moment being, the use of this type of evaluation is just a possibility. If indicated in the specific call conditions, first-stage proposals of two-stage submissions will be evaluated blindly, and applicants may not disclose their identity in Part B of their proposal. The first experiences will decide on the continuation in Horizon Europe. 

Proposals with equal scores

When proposals are equally scored, evaluators and the European Commission need to stick to a methodology that clearly describes which elements are considered priority. This final evaluation will take place during a panel review, and it is then that these proposals are arranged in the right order.

The methodology changed from Horizon 2020 to Horizon Europe. You should consider the issues below:

  1. Just like in Horizon 2020, evaluators will give higher priority to those proposals that address all aspects of the call, despite not being the most highly ranked.
  2. Also similarly to Horizon 2020, the proposals identified under 1), if any, will themselves be prioritised according to the scores they have been awarded for ‘Excellence’. When these scores are equal, priority will be based on scores for ‘Impact’. In the case of ‘Innovation actions’, priority will be given to the score for ‘Impact’, followed by that for ‘Excellence’.
  3. NEW: only if needed, evaluators may take into account the gender balance among the personnel named in the proposal who will be primarily responsible for carrying out the research and/or innovation activities. Pay attention to the researchers included in the researchers’ table in the proposal, since this is new in terms of order and phrasing.
  4. NEW: Any further prioritisation will be based on geographical diversity. Meaning the number of the Member States or Associated Countries represented in the proposal, not otherwise receiving funds from projects higher up the ranking list (and if equal in number, then by budget).
  5. If a distinction still cannot be made, the panel may decide to further prioritise by considering other factors related to the objectives of the call or to Horizon Europe in general. These may include, for example, enhancing the quality of the project portfolio through synergies between projects or, where relevant and feasible, involving SMEs. These factors will be documented in the panel report. (SMEs are mentioned, but not in terms of budget distributed to SMEs as in H2020! – this factor will be very rarely considered).
  6. The method described in 1), 2), 3) and 4) will then be applied to the remaining equally ranked proposals in the group. 

The main takeaways would be to pay more attention to gender balance in the researchers’ table as well as to geographical balance in terms of typical and not typical countries in the consortium. 

How to make sure you have a good overview of the evaluation process and criteria?

On the Funding and Tenders portal, following this link, you can download all the evaluation forms for all types of action under Horizon Europe, which include the key points evaluators are asked to judge.

Make sure you are aware of these points before you even start writing your own proposal, so that your writing will better reflect the evaluators´ expectations.         

Videos

FCT NOVA fingerprint

FCT NOVA overview

Founded in 1977, the NOVA School of Science and Technology (FCT NOVA) is one of the most prestigious Portuguese and European engineering and science public schools. It is engaged in extensive research activity involving around 600 PhD students of the total enrolment of more than 8900 students.

Regarding research outputs, FCT NOVA has published about 12 thousand papers indexed in Scopus and Web of Science, in top journals and conferences with high impact, which has earned recognition by its peers.

FCT NOVA partners with foreign universities such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and the University of Texas at Austin (UTAustin) to offer some of its advanced study programs, pioneers nationwide.

FCT NOVA has a broad expertise in cutting edge R&D+I due to its multidisciplinary nature and strong experience in fundamental and applied research in several areas, ranging from materials, environment, biotechnologies to conservation and restoration of cultural heritage, block chain, manufacturing, artificial intelligence, circular economy, raw materials, among others. The differentiation of FCT NOVA is to have the complementarity of Sciences and Technology which provides a unique profile to the students and also in the research activities and collaboration with industry and society.

FCT NOVA’s Excellence is reflected through the following drivers as i) by participation in International & National projects, ii) by collaboration with the industry and policy makers, iii) by the promotion of activities close to the society.

Currently, FCT NOVA has already been awarded with 100 projects in H2020, INTERREG, ERASMUS, LIFE, CEF, etc… This confirms the visibility and competitiveness of the school at European and International level and strong experience in collaborative projects, working with partners from all over the world.

The entrepreneurial drive of the students and graduates of FCT NOVA, greatly enhanced by the curricular profile of the school, has led to many successful spin-offs that transfer knowledge to the market and help create value and social impact.

With a total of 630 academic staff and 200 support staff, FCT NOVA’s professionals are internationally recognised due to their high impact in R&D+I activities, with researchers awarded ERC grants (eight in total) and merit prizes.

FCT NOVA is organised in 14 Departments and 14 Research Support Services, with suitable structures, infrastructures, facilities and qualified 16 R&D Units and a Science park, and an enterprise incubator with a high track record in facilitating spin-off incorporation (Madan Parque).

Vision

FCT NOVA has an excellent research reputation established by our community of creative scholars. FCT NOVA’s R&D Units are known internationally for their research activity. Research excellence defines FCT NOVA and further strengthening and improving our research & innovation, to be dynamic, inspirational and life-changing in its impact, is an absolute priority.

FCT NOVA´s vision is to provide a home for some of the best research in the world, and be regarded as one of the best places worldwide to do research.

Context

FCT NOVA recognises that excellent research is firmly rooted within core intellectual disciplines and the abilities of individual researchers to contribute at the highest level. In addition, researchers may need to cross disciplinary boundaries in order to tackle major global challenges, provide innovative solutions or promote an international perspective.

Supporting focused intellectual activity and encouraging interdisciplinary research are seen as complementary processes, providing a distinctive and dynamic approach at which this institution has long excelled.

Foundations

These will support and drive the FCT NOVA’s research and following pillars will be met:

Research Excellence

We will conduct research of the highest quality that has the potential to be world leading and world changing.

Innovation

We will undertake research to advance core disciplines and find new and important areas for discovery, through the introduction of new ideas, insights and methods, for intellectual and economic benefit.

International Perspective

We will expect our research to be relevant and significant at a global level, even when it is geographically focused at a regional or national location.

Impact

We will seek to ensure that our research has impact beyond academia by engaging with and influencing people and organisations in order to affect policy and practice.

Collaboration and Partnership

We will aim to build strong links at institutional and individual researcher level with other academics, both internal and external, and nurture sustainable partnerships beyond academia with industrial, corporate, cultural, civic, public and third sector partners.

Integrity

We will undertake research in accordance with the highest professional standards (as specified in the University’s Code of Practice on Research Integrity) to ensure that it is robust and accords with rigorous ethical values.

Objectives

We will:

  • Embed recruitment processes that select academic staff who are, or have the potential to become, international leaders in their research area.
  • Ensure working practices that promote research time and are flexible enough to support exceptional outcomes with international impact, while respecting different approaches to research (working in groups or as lone scholars).
  • Provide research facilities and infrastructure of the highest quality, embedding this priority within the School’s capital planning process.
  • Establish a prestigious support scheme for Postdoctoral Fellows that encourages outstanding early career researchers to develop their research at FCT NOVA, potentially leading to a permanent academic appointment in the University.
  • Provide guidance, training, mentoring and support as required to equip all researchers with the skills needed to undertake robust research with the highest level of outcome and integrity.
  • Ensure that all research support staff, including technical and experimental officers, are fully trained and integrated into the research culture of R&D Units.
  • Continue with our strong commitment to ensuring equal career opportunities for all.

We will:

  • Support excellent research within the core academic disciplines across the School.
  • Promote the following research themes that have been identified as current areas of major research strength and excellence that cross R&D Units.
  • Creativity and Culture and Communication
  • Environmental Sustainability and Resilience
  • Health and Wellbeing
  • Justice and Equality
  • Risk, Evidence and Decision Making
  • Technologies for the Future
  • Promote internal initiatives on the annual basis like Research to Value – R2Value, promoting the knowledge valorisation in the FCT NOVA ecosystem.
  • Ensure that decision making processes for the allocation of resources are transparent and meet the highest standards of research quality and integrity.
  • Set clearly defined performance indicators for the research themes, considering different research models, and monitor these annually. Use this information to inform decisions on the life span of each theme.
  • Promote research outcomes and activities using the Research Database and support staff in ensuring that Pure and underpinning systems are kept up to date with relevant publication and activity data.
  • Develop a stronger web presence for research, focused around the themes while also linking with the research entries of R&D Units, to ensure academic colleagues, potential collaborators, funders and policy makers are fully aware of the FCT NOVA’s strengths.
  • Provide a clear framework in which development of the impact of and outcomes from research are seen as a priority, with support put in place to encourage such activities.
  • Promote activities that communicate our research strengths and successes in engagement with the wider public.

We will:

  • Maintain strong commitment to the link between research and teaching, as well as continue to expect that the majority of academic staff will undertake both activities.
  • Strengthen research grant planning and peer review processes to encourage competitive funding proposals and recognise the use of staff time for these purposes.
  • Employ resources such as academic leave and workload adjustment to enable research grant preparation.
  • Agree clear research expectations for Departments and R&D Units in terms of levels of activity and performance.
  • Monitor these expectations on an annual basis, via reporting to FCT NOVA Direction and Scientific Council.

Ensure that resources for research are used effectively and efficiently.

We will:

  • Make resources available to support staff in the development of large applications for funding in areas of particular research strength.
  • Organise related support structures to encourage research income generation and to protect and exploit IP where appropriate.
  • Recognise the relative importance of quality related research income for some researchers and support appropriate planning to underpin their research endeavours.
  • Provide excellent research support appropriate for the needs of individual researchers across the disciplines and promote the career development of research support staff to align with these expectations.
  • Ensure that incentives offered to researchers who are particularly successful in attracting research income and producing world leading research outcomes are appropriate and effective.
  • Develop partnerships at national and international level that support the University’s research ambitions and the development of long-­term sustainable relationships.
  • Be proactive in engaging with major funders of research and external partners in order to understand their priorities, highlight FCT NOVA’s capabilities and expertise, and inform their policies.
  • Diversify the portfolio of research income, particularly from European and other overseas programmes, industry and other public and private sources.
  • Improve the efficiency and effectiveness of research grant development and management, by reviewing current processes and implementing an integrated University research grants management

We will:

  • Establish the FCT NOVA Graduate Research School, led by a senior academic, to provide institution-wide oversight of all matters relating to postgraduate research students, particularly training, development and support.
  • Authorise the School to work in conjunction with Departments/R&D Units and existing graduate training programmes to ensure the highest level of broad and subject specific support across the Universidade NOVA de Lisboa.
  • Recognise the role of research students in promoting the research ambitions of the FCT NOVA and integrate them more effectively into the research culture of the institution.
  • Provide training for both students and supervisors, as appropriate, to ensure a culture of research excellence and integrity.
  • Increase Graduate research student numbers while maintaining the highest academic quality. To this end, there will be central matched support for relevant external funding bids.