The European commission’s pilot will provide funding of up to €2.4 million per post to attract the best researchers

The European commission has launched a new pilot project to help ‘attract outstanding academics’ to universities or institutions in less developed regions of Europe. The ERA (European Research Area) chairs initiative, will be funded with €12 million (£9.8 million) from the Seventh Framework Programme (2007-13) in an initial evaluation phase with grants of up €2.4 million per chair for a period of up to five years. The ultimate goal of the initiative is to attract top-level academics able to ‘raise standards and attract more high-level staff as well as money from other sources, such as EU research funding or regional funds.’

For the pilot project to succeed, it will be crucially important that this new initiative is integrated fully with Horizon 2020

If successful, the initiative will be expanded under the next framework programme, Horizon 2020 (2014–20), with ‘a much larger number of ERA chairs.’

Lesley Wilson, secretary general of the European University Association, tells Chemistry World that the association welcomes the pilot initiative, adding: ‘For the pilot project to succeed, it will be crucially important that this new initiative is integrated fully with future policy development of both Horizon 2020 and, particularly, the smart specialisation strategy addressing the greater use of regional structural funds for research and innovation activities.’

Proposals from interested universities and institutions in less developed regions will be accepted for evaluation until 30 May. Less developed regions will be defined as those regions eligible to receive financial support from the EU’s convergence funds, which are used to help regions that lag behind the more prosperous regions in the EU. Regions eligible for convergence funds include much of eastern Europe and parts of eastern Germany, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece and the far edge of western England. (See map)

The first grant agreements will be signed by next December with the recruitment process starting in early 2014. Candidates for ERA chairs can be nationals from any country in the world with a maximum of one chair per eligible country during the pilot.

A minimum of five ERA chairs will be created in the pilot phase, possibly more if grants are lower than the maximum €2.4 million award, according to Michael Jennings, spokesperson for European research, innovation and science commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn. However, he noted that each grant has to be of ‘sufficient size to cover the ERA chair and her or his team, plus other expenditures related to research work’.

Jennings declined to speculate on how large the ERA chairs programme would grow under Horizon 2020, noting that the final budget still needs to be approved by the European council and parliament. ‘Without knowing more about the eventual size of the Horizon 2020 budget, we cannot predict how big the programme might be,’ he says.