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How to tackle common challenges during grant preparation of MSCA Doctoral Networks

24th May 2023 at 8:42 am

The evaluation results of the 2022 Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) Doctoral Networks (DNs) call were published a few weeks ago, and it is now time for the grant preparations with the Research Executive Agency (REA) and preparing your newly funded DN for an excellent start. While the grant preparation process is well-structured, many will face some challenges.

From proposal to the Description of the Action

One of the first tasks of the grant preparation is adapting the proposal to the Description of the Action (DoA) section, which will later become Annex I of the EU grant agreement (GA). The responsible REA project officer will share a guide with instructions on which application parts will be transferred into the online forms on the EU Funding & Tenders Portal (Part A) and which will remain in the core document (Part B). It is essential to follow the instructions carefully to ensure a smooth process. Only minor changes to the proposal are allowed, and all need to be tracked in the history of changes to be included in the Part B document. We recommend keeping a separate Part A MS Word file instead of entering all data into the portal immediately. This allows tracking changes and keeps the information easily accessible for later, should your project need to amend the GA. We also recommend using the track changes function in the documents so that you can share these with your REA project officer before submitting the grant data. This will facilitate their work and streamline the process.

Partner change

A lot can happen during the six months between the submission of the proposal and the start of the grant preparation. One of the most common challenges we encounter during grant preparation is a change of partners. A Principal Investigator (PI) might have moved from one institution to another or is planning to do so soon. Or they may not have the capacity anymore to participate in the project as initially anticipated. Such a change to the consortium is considered a major one and will entail close collaboration with the REA project officer.

In most cases, the parties involved will agree that the PI takes the grant with them, resulting in a change of beneficiary. Because this change is made before signing the grant agreement, it will only minorly affect the estimated budget of the action. The REA project officer should be informed, and the necessary changes made in the EU Funding & Tenders portal. The REA project officer may ask for additional information regarding the new legal entity, including confirmation that it will be able to deliver the project as intended and that all necessary resources and infrastructure will be available.

An important aspect that should be checked in this scenario is the 40% rule. No more than 40% of the total budget may go to a single entity or the same country. If a beneficiary were to take over the Doctoral Candidate (DC) project(s) of the leaving beneficiary, the consortium would have to ensure it still meets the 40% requirement.

As always, the REA project officer should be informed as soon as possible about such a change. The officer may ask you to provide additional information about the new beneficiary to ensure that they can deliver the promised activities and properly supervise any DCs. We recommend submitting a beneficiary profile equivalent to those included in Part B2 of the proposal for the new beneficiary to make it simple for the REA project officer to check that the new beneficiary has the necessary capacity and facilities to host the DC. Again, consider the maximum grant amount and the 40% rule.

In any such scenario, the aim should always be to minimise the necessary changes as much as possible.

UK beneficiaries

Just this week, the REA informed the respective consortia that UK beneficiaries will not be funded under the 2022 call, as the UK’s association agreement to Horizon Europe is not expected to be signed in time. Just as last year, the consortia have received several options to address this:

  1. Replace the concerned UK partner(s) with another beneficiary established in a member state or associated country.
  2. Remove the concerned UK partner(s) without a replacement, reducing the scope of the project.
  3. Change the status of the UK partner(s) from beneficiary to associated partner(s) and let them participate with their own funding.

The REA will consider the necessary changes as non-substantial in all three cases. Nevertheless, some options are more attractive than others. Option 3 will be the easiest, as UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) has already confirmed the extension of its guarantee funding scheme to cover the 2022 DN call. This means that UK partners will receive national funding for their activities. An unofficial Option 4 could also be available, depending on the support of the REA, which is a combination of Option 1 and Option 3. This would allow the consortium to broaden the scope of the respective DN by including additional doctoral candidates in the project. The MSCA DNs only fund a maximum of 360 person-months in standard DNs and 540 person-months in Industrial Doctorates (DN-IDs) and Joint Doctorates (DN-JDs). As the DCs funded by UKRI will not factor into the calculations anymore, the consortia, which reached the total limit of the person-months during the proposal phase, may want to explore the opportunity to include additional DC projects on top of the already included projects to maximise the project’s potential impact. Thanks to the flexibility and support of the REA, this was possible in two of our successful DNs in the 2021 call. Of course, such a change to the project needs to be well thought through and make sense to the project as a whole.

Support for your DN project

The grant agreements of the 2022 DNs are expected to be signed by mid-July, and the first successful DNs will likely start in September 2023. Ensure you keep on top of your tasks and meet the deadlines set by the EU project officer.

Continuing our success in the first Horizon Europe DN call, we are pleased to support two successful proposals in preparing their grant agreement. Building on our experience as an associated partner in five ongoing Horizon Europe DNs — SYNSENSO, MIRELAI, MITGEST, BREAKthrough and CONcISE — and over 15 H2020 ITNs, we are looking forward to supporting these projects in their future transferable skills training, administration and dissemination activities. If you are interested in our support for your newly funded DN project, contact our DN/ITN experts, Jacqueline Strehler and Jörn-Frederik Wotzlaw.

Jacqueline Strehler

Jacqueline Strehler
Research & Innovation Project Manager

Dr. Jörn-Frederik Wotzlaw
Research & Innovation Project Manager