Four Oxford University academics have been awarded major European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Grants. Funded by the European Union, the grants of up to £2.2 million each and over £500m in total will allow pioneering research and generate 1900 new research jobs at 14 universities in EU Member States and associated countries. 

The four Oxford winners are among 51 UK grant recipients, a total surpassing that of any other country. UK researchers qualify for the grants because the UK is an “associated country” to the ERC under the Horizon Europe scheme. Writing on their website, the ERC describes the research as “for the benefit of all EU citizens”. The ERC further noted the importance of strong UK-EU ties, and told Cherwell that “up to half” of those recieving ERC Starting Grants in the UK are EU nationals.

Among the Oxford researchers awarded the grants are Professor Ros Rickaby at the Department of Earth Sciences for her research proposal ‘SCOOBI – Seeking Constraints on Open Ocean Biocalcification.’, which aims to further understand the ocean’s complex ecosystem and carbon cycle in response to the Earth’s changing climate through the study of coccolithophores and foraminifera (single-celled mineralising phytoplankton). 

Professor Renier van der Hoorn of the Department of Plant Sciences received funding to continue his work looking into unlocking extracellular immunity for new crop protection strategies, which are essential to feeding a growing world population. Plant pathogens decrease food production by between 18 and 30%, and these losses are expected to increase with climate change and reduced agrochemical use.

Professor Federico Varese at the Department of Sociology received an Advanced Grant for his research ‘Production, Trade and Governance: A New Framework for the Understanding of Organized Crime’. His project will attempt to understand organised crime through a new framework, breaking traditional disciplinary boundaries between the social sciences, and adopting a global outlook. It will investigate organised crime from local cybercrime production hubs in Europe, to the international trade of drugs from Colombia to Europe, and the emergence of criminal governance inside and outside prisons.

Professor Masooda Bano at the Oxford Department of International Development has been awarded funding for her research ‘Choosing Islamic Conservatism: Muslim Youth in Europe and the UK and the Question of Social Cohesion’, which explores the persistent appeal of Islamic conservatism among young Muslims in Europe and the UK. Professor Bano’s project will take cues from the growing interest in the role of neighbourhoods in religious socialisation, and develop a unique approach to understanding the ‘stickiness’ of Islamic conservatism in the West.

Women comprised 22% of applicants for and 23% of recipients of the grants, which represents a ‘steady increase’ in female applicants from previous years. However, the ERC seeks further gender parity in applications and told Cherwell it “hope to see more public authorities, universities and research institutions encourage women’s participation in all fields of science and also in the ERC grant competitions”.

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