Friday, 25 September 2015

Research grants that do not finance research

In the quest of research funding bodies to get ever more impact (whatever that means) with ever less money, the French National Research Agency (ANR) has recently made an interesting move: introducing a grant called MRSEI for, as its name indicates, "building European and international scientific networks".

The avowed aim of this grant is to "facilitate the access of French researchers to European and international financing". This grant is therefore not directly for doing research, it is also not a kind of seed funding for starting a project in the hope of later obtaining more funding. It is a grant for obtaining larger grants.

The existence of this kind of grants is rather logical in today's research funding climate, from several points of view:
  • looking for money is now supposed to be part of reseachers' jobs, and research institutes are already hiring consultants for helping them, so why not give money too,
  • this is one more type of positive feedback loops in research funding
  • this is also an example of researchers having to write multiple applications in order to fund one project.
Above all, for a small funding agency with little money to distribute, it may be more effective to help researchers get more money, than to directly fund their projects. Another example of this behaviour is when IDEX Paris-Saclay funds unsuccessful applicants to ERC grants, in order to help them improve and resubmit their application. (In that case, the money is given "strictly for improving the scientific project and the applicant's CV".) That this behaviour is logical from the point of view of some funding agencies, suggests that the system of research funding is dysfunctional.

I am grateful to St├ęphane Nonnenmacher for making helpful comments and for pointing out relevant information.