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0 to 100: real success rates for high quality proposals

19th October 2018 at 12:50 pm

When it comes to applying for Horizon 2020 (H2020) grants, success rates are one of the main concerns of researchers. Overall and across all sub-programmes, so-called instruments, about 11% of eligible proposals are successful. Specific instruments, such as FET Open and the SME Instrument, are particularly known for their low success rates (around 5%).

These low percentages can potentially discourage excellent researchers from applying to H2020. However, their chances of success in Horizon 2020 should not rely on these poor figures. This was the key message of Séan McCarthy from Hyperion Ltd in a recently published paper.

In fact, success rates are based on the number of “eligible” proposals encompassing all proposals that meet basic administrative rules. In this pile of documents, however, there are also scientific ideas that do either not fit into the chosen instrument or are not within the scope of the call topic, i.e. not fully addressing the specific call requirements, or are poorly written proposals.

Successful proposals need to achieve a score above the so-called threshold. This is a minimum value or percentage defined for each H2020 instrument that needs to be surpassed in order for a proposal to be eligible for funding. In practice, however, there are more proposals above the threshold that cannot be funded because of limited budget available for each call. In principle, the threshold defines whether a proposal is of higher or lower quality with respect to the call topic. As suggested by McCarthy, calculating the success rates based on the number of above-threshold proposals would better reflect the chances of high quality and well formulated proposals.

This often relativises the rather low success rates published in Horizon 2020 reports and statistics. In 2016, the real success rates (funded / above-threshold proposals) based on the above definition amounted up to 24,34% and were well above the reported success rates of 10,88% (funded / eligible proposals).

Looking at the latest results in specific programmes, we can conclude the following:

Programme Reported success rate “Real success rate”
FET Open (September 2017 cut-off) 6,7% 15,7%
SME Instrument, phase 2 (January 2018) 5% 14%
Fast Track to Innovation (6th cut-off) 7% 59%
NMBP-2016-2017: two-stages calls for Nanotechnology and advanced materials projects 7% 56% (if above-threshold in both stages)
ICT-2018-1: Calls in the field of 5G technologies 16% 29%
SC1-2016-RTD: Calls in personalised medicine 12% 32%
LCE-2017-RES-IA: Calls in the field of low carbon energy 13% 38%

Preparing a high quality proposal is not an easy task and requires a significant effort from you as researchers and all participating partners. We would recommend the following to maximise your chances of securing funding:

a) Thorough understanding of the call topic: A careful reading of the call-specific requirements can help you identify missing expertise and understand the context of the call, which will be useful for the proposal preparation. If your project idea doesn’t entirely match the call requirements, it might be wiser to spare your resources and identify a more suitable funding scheme. With the Strategic Grant Planning (SGP), our experts at accelopment will be pleased to help you identify the right funding opportunity and understand what is required in order for you to make an informed decision and increase your chances of success. We also offer face-to-face meetings to advise you on existing funding opportunities that meet your needs through the one two grant and the Firmensprechtage.

b) Timing: Each call has one or two submission deadlines and most proposals require 70 pages of text and tables. It is thus important to take a decision a few months beforehand and plan your resources accordingly. With over 20 years of experience, we can support you for a smooth and efficient proposal preparation, notably with the creation of a proposal preparation time plan.

c) Proposal writing can be a tough process for researchers and entrepreneurs as it requires time and energy that could be dedicated to other activities. For this reason, looking for external support is becoming more and more popular. Our team can help you with several tasks, such as drafting the non-scientific parts of a proposal, advising on the scientific chapters, completing the administrative online forms in the Research Participant Portal, and calculating the project budget.

Interested in our services for your Horizon 2020 proposal or another EU funding scheme? Contact one of our experts, for example Dr Johannes Ripperger and Marco Cavallaro, to discuss your project idea and proposal plans.