Frontier-led research, the ERC and the role of university communities in securing their future
On 1 June 2017, the rector 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, encouraging rectors and academic leaders to keep articulating the importance of excellent research to citizens, MEPs, national politicians and the media.
Bernd Engler and Jean-Pierre Bourguignon/Photographed by F. de Ribaucourt
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 ERC’s 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 dialogue, Bourguignon and Guild members discussed how structural barriers in some countries currently hinder application processes, emphasizing the need for institutions throughout Europe to support outstanding researchers in their engagement with the ERC. They also considered the significance of the ERC for innovation based on excellent science, and underscored the need for interdisciplinary research. Bourguignon highlighted that the ERC will re-introduce its Synergy Grants later this year, to support transformative research that crosses disciplinary boundaries. This underlined the Guild’s concern to foreground excellence and collaboration as the key principles for the added value of EU-funded research, as Europe provides unique opportunities 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 frontier-led 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.