While preparations for the next calls for proposals for the Sixth Framework Programme are already underway at the Commission, the first calls remain a topic for fervent discussion among stakeholders.
One group, the national contact points (NCPs) , are particularly concerned by the outcome of the first calls. CORDIS news spoke to three coordinators, from Germany, France and Poland, to find out more about the lessons learned from the results of the first calls, and their thoughts on areas that can be improved for future calls.
Paul Jamet is the coordinator the NCP network in France. He told CORDIS News that the results from the first call were better than initially expected. 'We were really afraid that the new instruments would affect the results, but our impression today of the first call is much better than some weeks ago,' he said.
The results reveal that while Germany is first in terms of participation, and the UK first with regard to the number of projects coordinated by UK consortia, France also ranks highly. Around 25 per cent of projects involving French partners were retained, a figure well above the global average. Also, 14 per cent of the projects retained are being coordinated by French consortia.
However, despite such encouraging statistics, Mr Jamet explained that there remains a significant amount of confusion regarding Integrated Projects and Network of Excellence, which has led to rejection of high quality projects. 'A lot of French consortia are upset because their projects were not retained despite being highly ranked by the Commission,' said Mr Jamet, noting that the Commission is only funding one or two projects using the new instruments in certain domains. 'In some priorities the success rate is about five per cent. This is really frustrating.'
Andre Schlochtermeier, coordinator of the German NCP system, also believes that one of the main problems in the first calls was the misunderstanding by applicants of the objective of Network of Excellences. 'Not only was it not understood by applicants, I think there were different concepts of the instrument in the Commission depending on the thematic area,' he said. 'Of course without any concrete examples, we found it very difficult to communicate to the applicants the scope and objectives of NoEs.'
'There has also been a reluctance from industry to participate in NoEs because the main aim is not to create results but to overcome the fragmentation of research,' explained Dr Schlochtermeier. 'It is impossible to expect industry to coordinate all their research with 20 to 30 partners – they will gain nothing.' Some people at the Commission have also warned that these networks are too large and have suggested that to ensure industry participation, the networks should start with a smaller number of partners,' said Dr Schlochtermeier.
In addition, there has been a general problem of over-subscription. 'Overall, 12,000 proposals were submitted for the first calls, out of which, less than one in five projects could be supported,' explained Dr Schlochtermeier.
The difficulties encountered due to over-subscription, particularly with regard to the projects deploying the new FP6 instruments, are most visible in candidate countries. 'Candidate counties are immediately in a weaker position than Member States,' said Andrzej Siemaszko, head of Poland's NCP system. He told CORDIS News that the success rate is as low as five per cent in some cases, with candidate counties coordinating only a handful of projects overall.
The fact that so many high quality projects have not been retained for budgetary reasons, Mr Siemaszko says, will have a knock-on affect on the second round of calls. 'It's clear that proposers will be reluctant to invest their time and money just to have their project rejected.'
However, despite the negative feedback received by some NCPs, they feel that their concerns are not falling on deaf ears. 'The Commission is generally aware of all the problems and that is very positive,' explained Dr Schlochtermeier. 'They are listening to NCPs and Member States and they will make some necessary adjustments.' Dr Schlochtermeier told CORDIS News that the Commission had already proposed a number of measures to turn the situation around. These include focusing more on the work programme;introducing a two step proposal process; revising their information material; and making available examples of successful projects.
Asked to pinpoint the most important lesson learned from the results of the first calls, the three coordinators agreed that there should be more emphasis on funding smaller projects and the older instruments, such as specific targeted research projects (STREPs) . 'In research as in life, it is wise not put all your eggs in the same basket,' said Mr Jamet. 'While big research networks and projects will achieve their objectives, they will not really innovate.'
In preparation for future calls, the three NCP coordinators will meet in November to discuss ways of improving contacts between researchers from their respective countries.