Oxford University has been awarded a grant of €56 million by the European Research Council (ERC). 

The winners of the ERC’s latest Consolidator Grants Competition were announced on 10 December, the funding for this being a part of the EU’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.

Awards worth €600 million went to 301 outstanding researchers across 24 countries. Oxford University received nine new ERC Consolidator Grants, the most awarded to any institution in the UK and the second most in Europe.

ERC grants are highly esteemed across the European academic community, and are awarded solely on the basis of scientific excellence. The Council was created to encourage groundbreaking research of the highest possible quality in Europe.

Researchers of any nationality with 7 to 12 years of experience since completion of PhD, and with a promising scientific track record and excellent research proposal are eligible to apply for a Consolidator grant.  

Professor Patrick Grant, Pro-Vice Chancellor (Research) and Vesuvius Chair of Materials at Oxford University said: “We are proud of the success of our early career researchers in this recent round of highly competitive ERC funding. The level of funding support we receive from the ERC speaks to the calibre of researchers we are able to attract and who bring considerable prestige to the University. Teaching and research excellence is at the core of our mission, and in which ERC awards continue to play a valued and central role.”

Controversy surrounds the allocation of ERC Grants as their policy of focusing purely on excellence means wealthier and more well resourced institutions reap the greatest benefits.

Institutions in countries like Germany, the UK, France and the Netherlands receive large amounts of funding from the ERC, prompting the question of how it can be possible for less economically developed countries to catch up academically to their richer counterparts.

Some grants were awarded to Europe’s less wealthy central and eastern countries. Zaroui Pogossian at the Central European University in Hungrary, for example, received an award to support her research on cultural interactions in the medieval Caucasus, Anatolia and northern Mesopotamia.

Yet, the success of Oxford and other wealthy, Western European institutions may be indicative of a larger political problem. 

Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, acknowledged the need to examine this issue, saying: “…it is so important that we reach an agreement on an ambitious Horizon Europe budget for the next multi-annual budget. More available research funding would also allow us to create more opportunities everywhere in the EU – excellence should not be a question of geography.”

Grantees at Oxford University include researchers from a variety of departments, including Physics, Chemistry, Anthropology, Music, Medicine and Earth Sciences, to name a few.

Dr Gascia Ouzounian from the Faculty of Music is looking at the topic of sound in cities, and how we can utilize the power of sound to build healthier, more inclusive, and more sustainable societies.

Dr Dace Dzenovska from the Department of Anthropology is researching the concept of ‘emptiness’ in relation to post-socialism villages and towns in the Latvian Russian borderlands, while Dr Sergi Padilla-Para from the Nuffield Department of Medicine is studying antibody responses to aid rational vaccine design for HIV.