By Sharon Atieno

The partnership between European Union (EU) and Africa offers numerous funding opportunities for African researchers and scientists yet very few Africans have tapped into the resources.

“The number of Africans who we receive at the European Research Council (ERC) is small,” said Prof. Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, ERC President at the African Academy of Sciences (AAS) in Nairobi.

President of ERC giving at a press meeting

Statistics from ERC reveal that between 2014 and 2018, Africa has had the lowest applications in start-up grants, consolidation grants and advanced grants. There are only 12 Africans that are holding an ERC grant. Their countries of origin include: Morocco, South Africa, Algeria, Tunisia, Cameroon and Egypt.

The ERC was set up by the European Union in 2007 to support cutting-edge research based on excellence as the selection criterion. To date it has funded around 9,000 top researchers at various stages of their careers. The ERC is part of the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme with a budget of 13 billion Euros for the years 2014-2020.

Some of the incentives ERC employs to attract researchers from outside Europe include: grant portability within Europe team members being based outside Europe and additional funding for scientists moving to Europe (500,000 Euros for starting, 750,000 Euros for consolidator grants and 1 million Euros for advanced).

However, if the grantee is from outside Europe, they are required to spend at least 50 percent of their work time in Europe, though they can keep affiliation with home institute outside Europe.

Prof. Jean-Pierre giving a talk at AAS

“This is European taxpayers’ money so at some point, you have to show there is a link with Europe,” said Bourguignon. “It should not be looked at as brain drain but rather brain synchronization because the researcher is being exposed to other environments.”

The Horizon 2020 programme is worth 80 billion Euros under which the main thematic areas of EU-African co-operation include: environment, food, ICT and health.

“So far, 200 million Euros has gone directly to African research institutions,” said Fadila Boughanemi, Deputy Head of Unit in charge of Science and technology Cooperation with Africa, European Commission.

Out of the projects funded in Africa, South Africa has the most projects followed by Kenya and Morocco respectively.

The EU-African Union high level dialogue on Science, Technology and Innovation is to raise funds to enhance cooperation between scientists in Europe and Africa. In the previous dialogue held in Abidjan, a climate change and sustainable energy programme was launched and 40 million Euros raised which will be released through a call for proposals.

Part of the recommendations of the Abidjan summit was to set up a mechanism for the financing of competitive research in Africa such as an African innovation council based on the experience of ERC.

“This is an approach that could work quite well in a pan-African or regional context within Africa,” said Robert Burmanjer, Head of Unit Knowledge management, European Commission.

He also noted that the Unit Knowledge management would be willing in assisting with setting up a pivot programme borrowing on expertise gained by AAS at different sectors with programme management.

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