CROSSING THE BRIDGE - September 2015

by Nilay Papila

ERC Grants as a Tool for Creating Soft-Landing Bases in Turkey

European Research Council (ERC) funds can be defined as the most distinguished way of soft-landing, which provide funding for top researchers and innovators who would like to conduct their researches at two different countries, namely Turkey and the US simultaneously.

Has been set up in 2007 by the EC, ERC strives to attract top researchers from all over the world to conduct their cutting-edge research in a bottom-up manner in Europe through its funding and grants, that are among the most prestigious and competitive grant programs available. Since then, a considerable number of world-class researchers came to Europe, and have been conducting their ‘frontier’ research in Europe.

There are three core ERC funding schemes:

(1) ERC Starting Grants

  • Support top researchers with 2 to 7 years of experience after their PhD
  • Grants amount to up to €2 million for five years

(2) ERC Consolidator Grants

  • Support top researchers with 7 to 12 years of experience after their PhD
  • Grants amount to up to €2.75 million for five years

(3) ERC Advanced Grants

  • Open to excellent established researchers who have a recent research track-record which identifies them as leaders in their respective field of research
  • Grants amount up to €3.5 million for five years

Here are some facts and figures about ERC:

  • The ERC represents 17% of the overall Horizon 2020 budget (€ 13.1 billion of € 77 billion)
  • The total annual budget for 2014 will be of € 1.7 billion, and as from 2016 the call budgets are gradually increased each year
  • Since 2007, more than 5,000 projects with around € 9 billion have been selected for funding from more than 43,000 applications
  • The ERC counts five Nobel laureates, three Fields Medalists, five Wolf laureates among its grant holders and more.
  • 70% of ERC Starting Grant holders obtained a professorship in only 3 years after they received a Starting Grant
  • To date, 40,000 publications in top scientific journals (such as Nature and Science) derive from ERC projects.
  • Over 20,000 articles acknowledging ERC-funding have appeared in peer-reviewed high impact journals between 2008 and 2013

Turkey as a Base for Soft-Landing

The innovation ecosystem in Turkey has changed considerably after TÜBİTAK initiated a program called ‘1513- Support for Technology Transfer Offices’ (TTO) in 2012. Through this program, TÜBİTAK provides financial support for selected universities for 5+5 years to establish their TTOs and make their activities sustainable. However, the term “technology transfer” was used in an unconventional way. TTOs in Turkey are expected to function as a combination of “Sponsored Research Office”, “Office of Technology Licensing” and “Incubation Centers” in the US.  Presence of such entities with financial support and human resources is a giant further step for Turkey.

Turkish TTOs are well experienced with ERC grants and as proposed in this article using ERC as a tool for funding, Turkey can be a hub for researchers who wants to contribute to home country without leaving the US. In other worlds, Turkey can host  “researchers with two worlds” via ERC funds.

Making Turkey a base for soft-landing of world-class researches and innovators in mid and long periods can be a sustainable knowledge transfer model. ERC grants are the greatest way to achieve this goal, as they are flexible allowing researchers to spend 50% of their time in the US and Europe. This approach may resolve the brain drain problems discussed over decades in most innovative way.