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Best practice: Involving Associated Partners in MSCA Doctoral Networks during grant preparation

13th June 2023 at 3:09 pm

Successful applicants of the 2022 Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) Doctoral Networks (DN) call are currently busy preparing the Grant Agreement with the European Commission (EC). While these are being finalised, it is also time to start preparing the Consortium Agreement and think of how to coordinate best the participation of the Associated Partners in your DN. Given their essential role and contribution to your DN, it is vital to follow a few steps to ensure their smooth involvement in the project. This is especially true if the consortium includes Associated Partners recruiting their own Doctoral Candidates with external funding. To help you in the process, our DN-experienced project managers have put together a best practice guide that covers the main aspects.

Inform, confirm or change Associated Partners

It is good practice to start taking the first steps towards the involvement of Associated Partners early to avoid additional administrative tasks later in the project. The Coordinator should inform the Associated Partners included in the proposal that the project was successfully evaluated and invited by the EC to start the grant preparations. When doing so, the Coordinator should also ask the Associated Partners to re-confirm their involvement in the project, as their participation is of great importance to delivering the required training and secondments to the Doctoral Candidates. Notably, the Associated Partners are not only named in Annex I, the technical project description of the Grant Agreement (Description of Action, DoA), but also listed in the core document with their information from the participant register of the EU Funding & Tenders Portal.

If an Associated Partner fails to confirm their participation, the project Beneficiaries should seek alternative collaborations to ensure the planned training can be adequately delivered. While it is possible to make changes in terms of Associated Partners at any point throughout the project, it is highly advisable to have everything well in place for a good start of the project with all necessary partners on board.

Associated Partners recruiting Doctoral Candidates

Some DNs may include Associated Partners from countries currently still negotiating their association with Horizon Europe, like the United Kingdom or Switzerland, who included their own Doctoral Candidates’ projects to be funded through other means (e.g., UKRI for the UK and SERI for Switzerland). Confirming the participation of these early in the grant preparation process is even more important. There are also some additional provisions to consider for the Consortium Agreement. The involvement of such partners should have been described already in the proposal and needs to be clearly defined in the Grant Agreement.

Relevant contracts and agreements

Regarding contracts and agreements, the Associated Partners do not sign the grant agreement. However, Associated Partners are sometimes invited to sign the Consortium Agreement together with the Beneficiaries. We recommend avoiding this whenever possible, as it adds unnecessary administrative complications, especially when the internal requirements of larger organisations may involve going through non-European headquarters for approval of signature. An exception is the recruiting Associated Partners in your DN. These should be signatories of the Consortium Agreement, as they will likely also contribute to a central training budget and any management contributions for the Coordinator.

Concluding a Partnership Agreement between the Beneficiaries and each “normal” Associated Partner is recommended. Typically, the Consortium Agreement should give the Coordinator the right to sign such a Partnership Agreement with the Associated Partners, allowing for an easy and straightforward process. Many consortia will include a template for such a Partnership Agreement as an Annex in the Consortium Agreement. In some cases, it is advisable for the main host and the secondment host to sign a Secondment Agreement. Examples of such cases are: (1) a secondment may result in the generation of new Intellectual Property, (2) there are specific costs incurred due to a secondment or (3) the Doctoral Candidate involved has access to a company’s confidential information during the secondment. Such agreements will be specific to the parties involved and, as such, are not included in the Consortium Agreement.

 BeneficiariesRecruiting Associated PartnersAssociated Partners
Grant Agreement
Consortium Agreement(✔)
Partnership Agreement✔ (usually just the coordinator)(✔) only necessary if not signatories of the CA(✔) only necessary if not signatories of the CA
Secondment Agreement✔ (only signed by parties directly involved)✔ (only signed by parties directly involved)✔ (only signed by parties directly involved)
Different types of contracts in DNs and who signs them.

Expert help and support

This guide is the result of accelopment’s experience as an Associated Partner for dissemination, communication, administration and training support in ongoing and recently approved Horizon Europe DNs and as a Partner Organisation in over a dozen H2020 Innovative Training Networks (ITN), supporting networks to successfully manage contract negotiations at the start of a new project and throughout its entire duration.

Our DN experts are always looking forward to collaborating with new networks and engaging in new opportunities, whether by providing support with contract negotiations or training tailored to Doctoral Candidates and their supervisors. Our DN team is here for you if you are looking for expert help and support. Feel free to get in touch!

Jacqueline Strehler

Jacqueline Strehler
Research & Innovation Project Manager

Dr. Jörn-Frederik Wotzlaw

Dr. Jörn-Frederik Wotzlaw
Research & Innovation Project Manager