Funding your research projects: some data

(This post is a continuation of my post of last week and gives some better grounded data.)

If you are a scholar active in Europe, you will most probably depend on funding for your projects in order to survive, given that surviving out of teaching alone is infrequent and a tenure is not foreseeable. Thus, it becomes essential to know what one’s chances are.
A short comparison shows that among European countries,

  • Switzerland is the one in which more money for research is granted (total amount/number of inhabitants): 88,5 E pro inhabitant each year
  • Finnland is the next one: 61,1 E
  • UK (Research Council UK): 48,0 E
  • Neatherlands (NWO): 37,2 E
  • Germany (DFG): 33,5 E
  • Austria (FWF): 23,8 E

This is however still not enough, since a lot depends on how many funding agencies there are in each country, so that, e.g., the situation may look different in Germany if one takes into account also the Humboldt scholarships, the Max Planck foundation, etc.

Moreover, the amount of money available per inhabitant still does not say much, since it is not said how many inhabitants apply for that money. In this sense, it seems that the acceptance rate of the German DFG is much lower than expected, whereas the Swiss acceptance rate is high, as expected:

  • Swiss acceptance rate: around 50%
  • Austrian acceptance rate: 25,8%
  • German (DFG only) acceptance rate: around 17%

Still more interesting, especially for prospective peer reviewers are the following data:

  • acceptance rate in 2008 (Austria, FWF): 43,0% (2008 was the highest peak attained, before that the rate was around 41,5%)
  • acceptance rate in 2013 (Austria, FWF): 25,8%

Why this huge difference in a few years? Because the number of application has been incredibly growing (from 1,000 in 2001 to 2,386 in 2013).
This means that the lower acceptance rate is not due to the lower quality of post-2008 projects. Rather, after 2008 the FWF Jury (and I imagine that a similar situation applies to the DFG and similar fundings) just had to look for weak points in each project in order “not to go bankrupt” (precise quotation of what I heard at a recent FWF roadshow).
Given that the decision about a project is taken in Austria, Germany and Italy (I guess that the same applies to the other EU countries, but I cannot be sure) by a jury or committee on the basis of peer-reviews, much burden lies on the peer reviewers themselves.
Again, as I heard at the same roadshow:

We are forced to look for anything which looks like a critique, if we want not to go bankrupt. We know we are turning down projects we would be funding in better financial conditions.

There is nothing blamable in that, but I am convinced that peer reviewers should be informed about the weight of their decisions. Anything less than “enthusiastic approval” amounts to good news for the committee, who can turn down the project. It is fine, if you think the project not to be worthy, but I, for one, will send my further suggestions directly to the applicant and not include them in my peer review the next time I am asked to review a project.

What will you do? What have you done until now?
Source: FWF

Comments and discussions are welcome. Be sure you are making a point and contributing to the discussion.

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2 thoughts on “Funding your research projects: some data

  1. Dear Mrs. Freschi,

    thank you for the data about the acceptance rates, they seem not to be accessible to the public. Your FWF link leads to a restricted area.

    In case you are interested: the situation did not improve. In the latest fwd -board meeting, three of our proposals were killed at the same time and the referee reports were exactly as you described it in your posting.

    • Dear Mr. Smollner,

      I just received a similar piece of news from a colleague. The reviews are all positive but, unfortunately, their authors added some suggestions for further improvements –this has been enough for the project to be dismissed as C2 (minor modifications required).