Monday, 1 August 2016

Consortium projects and UK organisations

Following the UK’s referendum, a number of UK organisations have reported that their EU Collaborators were showing reluctance to include them in proposals for H2020 consortium projects. Reasons given were the risk that UK partners might be compelled to leave the consortium half way through the project, creating disruption; that project funding would be reduced; and that evaluators might judge UK participation in a proposal as a negative feature. Here we explore those arguments.

Project disruption: if UK organisations are forced to leave the consortium, replacements might have to be found and an amendment agreed with the EC. This would take lots of time and represents a risk o the success of the project.

This problem is not unique to the UK situation. A recent study commissioned by the EC found that, of a sample of 2300 coordinators in FP6 and FP7, 32% reported changes in consortium membership. They are not unusual, and have a variety of causes, including professors moving to jobs in the USA and SMEs going bankrupt. And to many organisations, the chance to join a project which is already funded is more attractive than preparing a proposal which has a 1 in 7 chance of success.

As Mark Twain said “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated”.

Reduction in project funding: this implies that the EC would unilaterally break its contracts with the non-UK members of a consortium, by not allowing them to claim the agreed budget for the agreed work. Not even the “Force Majeure” article of the grant agreement would allow this, because the event causing the EC’s action is foreseeable. The European Court of Justice would be very busy!

Evaluators: for decades, rumours have circulated amongst proposers that the geographical distribution of consortium members influenced project selection. These include the balance between north and south, the level of economic development (rich v poor), and new EU Member States versus old. None of these rumours proved to be true.

Likewise, rumours that evaluators might judge UK participation in a proposal negatively have no foundation. The EC’s standard briefing to evaluators addresses the UK referendum as follows "Experts should not evaluate proposals with UK participants any differently than before”.

The experience of Switzerland is also relevant. Swiss organisations are excluded from EU funding in H2020, except for “Excellent Science”. In the areas excluded from EU funding, the Swiss Government funds any Swiss organisation which participates in a successful proposal. (This corresponds to the third option listed in the box on the previous page). So far, this has resulted in 163 Swiss organisations participating in 315 H2020 consortium projects. In some cases, the Swiss organisation coordinates the project.

The real test in selecting partners is whether they can contribute to the project’s objectives, and this applies to every organisation from every country.

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