On 9 July 2021, the COST Programme, as one of the core instruments of the Widening participation and strengthening the European Research Area (ERA) Work Programme, was presented at the ERA & Widening Info Day organised by the European Commission. This Info Day is part of the first edition of the Horizon Europe Info Days, a series of events aiming to inform about the main funding instruments and processes of the new Horizon Europe programme supporting science, research and innovation. Dr Ronald de Bruin, Director of the COST Association, as one of the panellists, presented COST to potential applicants and explained how to access, join and participate in COST’s activities.
The ERA and Horizon Europe Info Days
The ERA’s ambition is to create a single, borderless market for research, innovation and technology across Europe, and to help countries to be more effective together. As 2021 marks the start of Horizon Europe – the ambitious research and innovation Programme of the EU – which will be decisive to strengthen the ERA, COST finds itself at the centre of research cooperation across Europe, as underlined by Dr De Bruin during his presentation: “COST’s mission is to provide networking opportunities for researchers and innovators to tackle Europe’s challenges in a bottom-up, open, excellence-driven and multidisciplinary way”.
The Info Days series is split in multiple themed sessions corresponding to different clusters – or parts – of the new programme: Health; Culture, Creativity & Inclusive Society; Civil Security for Society; Digital, Industry & Space; Climate, Energy & Mobility; Food, Bioeconomy, Natural Resources, Agriculture & Environment; ERA & Widening; Research Infrastructures; The Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions: what’s new under Horizon Europe; and Euratom. This Info Day’s theme was ERA & Widening, with a dedicated session entitled ‘Widening participation and Strengthening the European Research Area’ in which COST participated.
COST, Horizon Europe and the Widening Participation and Spreading Excellence actions
The objective of the Widening Participation and Spreading Excellence pillar of the Horizon Europe Programme is to build research and innovation capacity for countries lagging behind (known as Inclusiveness Target Countries -ITCs- at COST). To meet these objectives, areas of intervention are numerous, for example creating centres of Excellence to stimulate new investments and reforms of national research and innovation systems, or increasing research institutions and universities’ visibility. COST, as a building block of the ERA to develop research and innovation capacity, through its networking activities, widely contributes to these ambitions and truly is one of Horizon Europe’s major implementation tool in that regard. “COST is a unique programme supporting the networking of researchers and innovators aiming to achieve breakthrough scientific achievements, to advance their careers and mobility and to bring Europe forward in creating and benefitting of new knowledge”, explained Dr Ronald de Bruin.
To align with today’s session, Dr De Bruin’s presentation of COST’s mechanisms focused on Inclusiveness Target Countries. To help developing their participation in COST Actions, the COST Inclusiveness and Excellence Policy, which nurtures talent and creativity, is developed around three main pillars: geographical spread, career stage by involving early career investigators (also known as young researchers), and gender balance. “The number of participants has tremendously increased over the years, but also the share of Inclusiveness Target Countries – countries which are less developed in terms of research and innovation infrastructures. It is important to note that 50% of an Action main proposers network must come from Inclusiveness Target Countries”, he explained.
The role of COST in the ERA is centred on three main strategic priorities: promoting and spreading excellence, fostering interdisciplinary research for breakthrough science, and boosting career of young researchers. “The very virtue of COST is that it is a completely bottom-up organisation, open to all scientific fields, all career stages and all organisations or institutions. This truly helps spreading and widening excellence in research and innovation across Europe.” These strategic priorities are implemented within COST Actions through a variety of networking tools such as training schools, short-term scientific missions, dissemination activities, meetings, workshops, conferences and conference grants. “Indeed, the very core of COST business is supporting the COST Actions, through networking tools. We have also recently launched Virtual Networking Tools as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic”, he added.
The presentation continued highlighting some of COST’s success stories as part of COST’s 50 years anniversary celebration: for example the NewCompStar Action on exploring fundamental physics with compact stars, chaired by Prof. Luciano Rezzolla, or the 71st Engineering Emmy Award awarded to Professor Touradj Ebrahimi, chair of COST Action Qualinet.
Finally, he underlined how COST is acting as a pre-portal for other Horizon 2020/Horizon Europe funding, explaining that “at COST, we measure the number of proposals in other EU-funded programmes resulting from COST Actions, and their success rate, which is at least 37%. This is three times higher than the average Horizon 2020 success rate!” In that regard, COST really makes a great contribution to the ERA.
The event ended by a Q&A session which gave the opportunity to more than 200 attendees to get direct answers. Some of the questions concerned the possible difficulties of submitting a proposal, the allocation of budget or the involvement of SMEs in COST networks. “We really are promoting open access, for example open access to publication, which is a fundamental aspect of research”, concluded the Director of COST.
To watch the full presentation, click here.