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European group promotes research funding in Taiwan

By Ian Fritz and Enru Lin--The European Research Council (ERC) secretary-general flew into Taipei yesterday to promote a 1.8-billion-euro bundle of research grants among local researchers.

Everyone in the world is eligible to apply, Secretary-General Donald Dingwell told local press on Sunday, at the start of his three-day publicity circuit across Taiwan.

Judges don't distribute grants based on thematic priorities or political goals. Instead, projects are judged according to their “excellence,” or their ability to solve a world-class problem, according to Dingwell.

“In between problems and potential people who could solve problems are all kinds of barriers — not enough money, not in the right country, don't have the program — and (the ERC is) just trying to sweep away some of that. To clear out the brush, so to speak.”

So far, the applicants' success rate stands at about 12 percent, but no Taiwan-affiliated applicant has yet to prove successful.

Since the program's inception in 2007, no researcher with Taiwanese residence or citizenship has won a grant in any of the ERC's three categories: “starting,” “consolidator” and “advanced.”

But just nine Taiwan-affiliated researchers applied for the ERC grants in five years, according to Dingwell.

Dingwell said the low volume of applications could be due to the fund's residency requirement. Grantees must spend a portion of their time working at a host institution within the EU.

Or it could simply be because local circles aren't aware that there's money available.

“I speculate that nobody knows about it,” he said.

Nuts and Bolts

Research proposals from a range of academic disciplines are invited starting July 10. Grants are awarded in three categories, two of which require a Ph.D. and a number of years' experience, while the third is open to any person regardless of their educational background. Potential recipients will need to pass a rigorous process of review from two panels of international experts. Both their professional record and research proposal will be evaluated. Deadlines for submissions vary between this October and January 2013.

Return on Investment

Despite economic woes in Europe, the European Commission has proposed doubling the ERC's funding for the 2014-2020 period, signaling a nod of approval from politicians which echoes the broad acceptance of the ERC grants among EU academics.

In five years, the program has already seen a significant payoff, with Russian-born Konstantin Novoselov, a recipient of a grant in 2007, being awarded the Nobel prize for physics in 2010. Dingwell hopes that attracting more excellent researchers to Europe might encourage innovation and help alleviate some of its economic problems.

Taiwan is one of the first Asian countries that Dingwell has visited in the new “ERC goes global” campaign. This leg of Dingwell's trip sees him visiting domestic research institutions such as National Taiwan University, Academia Sinica and National Tsing Hua University.

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 Taiwan photographer crusades for doomed dogs 
Prof. Donald Dingwell, secretary-general of the European Research Council (ERC), promotes the “ERC goes global” campaign in Taipei, yesterday. The ERC

hopes to attract more research proposals from Taiwan — “one of Asia's longstanding powerhouses for research.” (Ian Fritz, Special to The China Post)

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