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Survey on Research Funding for the Social Sciences in Europe

                  ACO Report on Research Funding 2011                      

Prepared in collaboration with:

European Economic Association (EEA)

European Sociological Association (ESA)

European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR)



The survey

In 2010-11, the MWP-ACO, in collaboration with the EEA, the ESA and the ECPR, carried out three separate surveys of economists, sociologists and political scientists, mainly with an academic background. These individuals were invited to answer an on-line questionnaire regarding research funding in the social sciences in Europe.

Overall, we received 3,802 valid responses from among the 19,944 invitations sent: 2,384 economists, 766 sociologists and 652 political scientists. The total response rate is 19.1 per cent.

This survey is divided into two parts. Part I analyses the sociology of each profession, gathering personal information and assessing the respondent’s current working position. Part II focuses on the research funding experience of the respondents, revealing both the specifics of the respondent’s research funding, as well as their subjective perceptions of the funding application and fruition processes.

Both parts of the survey show remarkable consistency: differences are small between the three professions. More relevant is the variation across European Research Area (ERA) countries, which share distinct academic traditions.

Part I: The sociology of the academic profession

The first part of the survey confirms a number of facts about the academic profession. Persisting ageing and the gender divide are relatively big problems in academia, the former affects sociology the most, the latter, economics. The gender divide increases with advancement in the profession (if 48 per cent of PhD students are women, only 18 per cent are full professors).

The vast majority of respondents (85 per cent) hold an academic position. Economists have the most varied careers, as nearly 6 per cent work for Central Banks. Almost 80 per cent of respondents work in universities; research institutes come in second with nearly 12 per cent. Anglo-Saxon countries have a higher share of university workers, whereas research institutes are popular in Continental countries, especially in France.

There is considerable national variation in terms of research internationalization. 60 per cent of all respondents report being well connected to the international research community. Researchers working in countries that have an Anglo-Saxon academic tradition (UK, the Netherlands, Switzerland etc.) have the highest levels of international integration, closely followed by those working in Scandinavian countries.

Researchers in Turkey and Central and Eastern Europe report the lowest integration and openness. France and other Continental countries fall in between, but heterogeneity in responses is marked. Full professors are better connected than others, and assistant professors the least.

Part II: Research funding in the European Research Area

The second part unveils largely unexplored perceptions of research funding opportunities within the ERA. On the one hand it provides a clear picture on the sources and destination of research funding; on the other hand it shows the subjective perceptions of respondents regarding both national and supranational financing sources.

The overall picture is not encouraging, as funding agencies, in spite of recent, and sometimes remarkable advances, still display several problems. Economists, sociologists, and political scientists agree on the most desirable features of research funding: flexibility, adequate funding, competent and transparent evaluation and the simplification of the application process.

There is ample room to improve the efficiency of European research funding, in terms of flexibility – especially for European-level institutions, both the European Research Council (ERC) and the Framework Programme (not ERC) – and of competent evaluation, as the mistrust in the selection procedures is a major concern with the majority of National and Regional research funding agencies. 

Facts about research funding in the ERA

The respondents reported that their main funding source is national, although the balance between National Public and Own Institutional funding is fairly heterogeneous across countries. The sum of both sources is close to 60 per cent in Belgium, Italy and Spain, climbing to 80 per cent in Nordic countries.

In Scandinavian countries and in Germany there is a wealth of National Private funding institutions, which provide over 10 per cent of all financing. Some countries – possibly as a response to the low transparency and availability of national grants – rely more than others on research funding at the European level. On average, EU funds represent 11 per cent of the whole budget. In Italy and Turkey the share is closer to 18 per cent. Finally, countries where local authorities have greater autonomy have developed extensive Regional Public research funding. In Belgium, regional funds cover more than 18 per cent of total research financing; in Spain 13 per cent.

The highest levels of average annual funding come from the ERC. National Public Grants and the Framework Programme (not ERC) come next. Over 60 per cent of ERC funds reported go to political science, while the other two sources show no relevant differences among the three disciplines. Out of all the professions, full professors in the fields of political science and economics receive the most funding from National Public research grants (especially in Anglo-Saxon countries, Belgium and Germany), the ERC, and the Framework Programme (not ERC).

Perceptions of European and national research funding agencies

The majority of respondents from all three grant sources report the grant application process to be unnecessarily long or long but reasonable. In terms of factors influencing the decision to apply for a grant, the total size of the grant is the primary consideration. The primary reasons for not applying for a grant are: low success probability (Framework Programme and especially the ERC); the lack of confidence in the evaluation procedure (for National Public research grants in most countries); too high procedural and logistic costs (again ERC and the Framework Programme in general).

With respect to the flexibility of usage of the available funds, the respondents deem that the Framework Programme (not ERC) has the least flexible structure, whereas grants from the ERC and from national institutions score more or less equally. The stability and predictability of calls and grants is fairly good and consistent across the three financing sources. Only with respect to the Framework Programme, less than half of respondents consider them as stable and predictable. Finally, the time spent on applications is unacceptably long for the Framework Programme (not ERC), as reported by roughly twice as many people than for either the ERC or National Public research grants.

The majority of countries are dissatisfied with the ERC and the Framework Programme. With respect to both, Nordic and UK scholars have a more negative opinion than researchers from other countries, such as Italy, Spain or Belgium. Regarding the ERC, low success rates seems a major explanation. Switzerland and Portugal show full satisfaction with National Public research agencies, followed by Germany, Spain and other countries with the main exception of Italy, where the majority of respondents are dissatisfied. Dissatisfaction is surprisingly high in the UK, Sweden and the Netherlands.

Overall, there might be an inverse relation between satisfaction at national and European levels, hence, the ERC and the Framework Programme (not ERC) should take this into account. Major efforts are needed to simplify application and reporting procedures. Given the low success rates, the evaluation of applications should be of the highest standard and transparency.

Looking at satisfaction by discipline, economists are relatively more satisfied with all funding sources than either sociologists or political scientists. Satisfaction with National Public research grants (for economists) is mainly explained by the stability of calls, short application time and the suitability of the schemes. Satisfaction conditional on success is lowest for the Framework Programme (not ERC). In particular, there is dissatisfaction even among respondents with high success rates.

Page last updated on 17 August 2017