Survey on Research Funding for the Social Sciences in Europe

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News from the Academic Careers Observatory:

Survey on Research Funding for the Social Sciences in Europe

By Igor Guardiancich, ACO, MWP


In 2010-11, the MWP-ACO, in collaboration with the European Economic Association, the European Sociological Association and the European Consortium for Political Research, carried out separate surveys of economists, sociologists and political scientists. The survey is in two parts.

Part I analyses the sociology of each profession, assessing the respondent’s current working position. Part II focuses on the research funding experience of the respondents and on their subjective perceptions of the funding application processes.

Both parts show remarkable consistency: differences are small between the 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

Part I confirms a number of facts about the academic profession, as almost 80 per cent of respondents work in universities. Ageing and the gender divide are relatively big problems in academia, the former affecting 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.

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 have the highest levels of international integration, closely followed by Scandinavian countries. Researchers in Turkey and Central and Eastern Europe report the lowest openness. Continental countries fall in-between.

Part II: Research funding in the European Research Area

The respondents reported that their main funding source is national. The sum of national public and own institutional funding is close to 60 per cent in Belgium, Italy and Spain, climbing to 80 per cent in Nordic countries. National private funding plays a role in Germany and Scandinavian countries. Finally, countries such as Belgium and Spain, where local authorities have greater autonomy, have developed extensive regional public research funding.

The highest levels of average annual funding come from the European Research Council (ERC). National public grants and the Framework Programme (not ERC) (FP) 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 disciplines. Unsurprisingly, full professors receive the most funding.

The majority of respondents report the grant application process to be (unnecessarily) long. The primary reasons for not applying are: a low success probability (ERC and FP); a lack of confidence in the evaluation procedure (national public grants); and too high procedural costs (ERC and FP).

With respect to the usage of funds, the FP has the least flexible structure, whereas the ERC and National Public grants score more or less equally. With respect to FP calls, less than half of respondents consider them to be stable and predictable. Finally, the time spent on applications is unacceptably long for the FP, as reported by twice as many people than for the ERC or national public grants.

The majority of countries are dissatisfied with the ERC and the FP. With respect to both, Nordic and UK scholars have a worse opinion than researchers from other countries, such as Italy, Spain or Belgium. Regarding the ERC, low success rates seem to be a major explanation. For the FP, there is dissatisfaction even among respondents with high success rates. As for national public research agencies, Switzerland and Portugal show full satisfaction, followed by Germany, Spain and other countries. The main exception is Italy, where the majority of respondents are dissatisfied. Dissatisfaction is surprisingly high in the UK, Sweden and the Netherlands.

Looking at satisfaction by discipline, economists are relatively more satisfied with all funding sources than either sociologists or political scientists.


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 – and of competent evaluation, as the mistrust in the selection procedures is a major concern with national and regional agencies. The simplification of application and reporting procedures for the ERC and FP is a priority. Given the low success rates, the evaluation should be of the highest standard and transparency.

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