Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) are part of the Excellent Science pillar within Horizon 2020. MSCA will provide excellent and innovative research training as well as attractive career and knowledge-exchange opportunities through cross-border and cross-sector mobility of researchers to best prepare them to face current and future societal challenges.
They operate on a completely bottom-up basis, with no pre-defined priority areas.
The MSCA have an emphasis on international and inter-sectoral mobility, and also have a strong focus on careers and skills development for researchers. Some of the schemes are aimed at individual researchers; others are aimed at institutions. There are four main strands of funding:
ITNs are the main strand of funding available to support Early Stage Researchers (ESRs). The ITN scheme supports joint training and/or doctoral programmes implemented by partnerships of universities, research institutions, research infrastructures, businesses, SMEs and other socio-economic actors.
There are three different strands of ITN funding to apply for: European Training Networks (ETN); European Industrial Doctorates (EID) and European Joint Doctorates (EJD). Each are distinct, and have their own conditions – see below. Successful proposals are funded for up to 4 years.
European Training Networks (ETNs)
ETNs are multi-partner research training networks and must be composed of at least three beneficiaries established in at least three different EU Member States or Associated Countries. Beneficiaries are organisations that are full participants of a network. They contribute directly to the implementation of the joint training programme of the network by recruiting, supervising, hosting and training researchers. They may also provide secondment opportunities. Beneficiaries are signatories to the grant agreement, receive funding, claim costs, and take complete responsibility for executing the proposed programme.
Partner organisations complement the research training programme but do not recruit any researchers. They provide additional research and transferable skills training and/or secondment opportunities. Partner organisations can be academic or non-academic organisations, located in any country. They are not signatories to the grant agreement, and cannot directly claim any costs from the project. Instead, the beneficiaries would need to reimburse the partner organisations for their activities in the research training programme.
Although there is no pre-defined size for these multi-partner networks, it is strongly recommended to keep the size of the consortium between 6 and 10 beneficiaries. It is expected that beneficiaries will be drawn from the academic and non-academic sectors and that ETN proposals will offer inter-sectoral and interdisciplinary research training as well as high-quality supervision arrangements.
European Industrial Doctorates (EIDs)
EIDs have the objective of training highly-skilled researchers and stimulating entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation in Europe. The aim is to create a meeting of minds, between business, academia and public authorities, to ensure young research talent is attracted into pursuing research careers, and is equipped with the best cutting-edge skills. This will be achieved in particular by involving the non-academic sector in doctoral training so that skills better match public and private sector needs.
Each EID is composed of at least two beneficiaries established in two different Member States or Associated Countries. At least one beneficiary must be entitled to award doctoral degrees and at least one beneficiary must come from the non-academic sector, primarily enterprise.
Each participating researcher must be enrolled in a doctoral programme and spend at least 50% of their time in the non-academic sector. The joint supervision of fellows by supervisors from each sector is mandatory. A wider set of partner organisations may also complement the training.
European Joint Doctorates (EJDs)
An EJD is a consortium which sets up a joint research and training programme for researchers at doctoral level, and has an objective of promoting international, intersectoral and multi/inter-disciplinary collaboration in doctoral-level training in Europe through the creation of joint doctoral programmes, leading to the delivery of joint, double or multiple doctoral degrees.
EJDs must be composed of at least three beneficiaries established in different Member States or Associated Countries that are entitled to deliver doctoral degrees. Above this minimum, the participation of any other organisation from the same or other countries (worldwide) is possible under the conditions provided by the Horizon 2020 Rules for Participation.
Each recruited researcher must be a) selected, supervised, monitored and assessed through a joint governance structure, b) be enrolled on a joint doctoral programme, and c) undertake transnational mobility. The enrolment of the participating researchers in a doctoral programme and the creation of a joint governance structure with joint admission, selection, supervision, monitoring and assessment procedures is mandatory. The successful completion of the programme must result in the award of joint, double or multiple doctoral degrees.
Aimed at individual fellows who already have a doctorate or equivalent experience, IFs aim to help experienced researchers to advance their careers and gain new skills through advanced training, international mobility, and optional inter-sectoral secondments. European Fellowships are held in Member States and are open to researchers either coming to Europe or moving within Europe. Global Fellowships are based on a secondment to a third country and a compulsory 12-month return phase in a Europe host organisation.
The RISE scheme supports projects which promote international and/or inter-sectoral collaboration through staff exchanges and the sharing of knowledge and best practice. The scheme involves organisations from the academic and non-academic sectors, organisations based in Europe (EU Member States and Associated Countries) and outside of Europe (third countries).
COFUND aims to foster excellence in researchers' training, mobility and career development. The funding plans to open these schemes up to transnational, cross-sectoral and inter-disciplinary mobility of researchers at all stages of their career (both doctoral and post-doctoral – although the bulk of the €80m COFUND budget is weighted towards postdoctoral (Fellowship) programmes (€50m)).
All fields of research and research training are eligible for COFUND (and can cover several or all research fields or can be restricted to a specific domain), provided that an element of mobility across borders is involved.
Applicants for COFUND grants should be public or private bodies that are responsible for funding and managing research training programmes or fellowships (it has to be a sole applicant). They may be ministries, research academies or agencies, international organisations but also other similar bodies with a public mission, such as universities. Eligible programmes are co-funded for 50% of their fellowship costs with a maximum EU contribution of €10m for any organisation per call.
COFUND proposals are selected through transparent and independent peer review. The programmes should have regular selection rounds for the category of researchers based on open, widely advertised, international competition, with transparent international peer review and selection of candidates on merit. The proposal should contain a clear plan on how the openness of the programme, the trans-national mobility and the working conditions of the selected researchers will be realised and/or enhanced.
Criteria examined during the evaluation include: focus on the quality of the evaluation process for selecting the researchers in terms of transparency and equal treatment of the applicants, quality of the peer review, management capacity, user-friendliness of the application process and benefit of the programme in terms of career development for the participating researchers.
Within COFUND, there are two categories of funding:
These address the development and broadening of the research competencies of ESRs. Collaboration with a wider set of partners, including from the non-academic sector, which may provide hosting or secondment opportunities or training in research or transferable skills, as well as innovative elements of the proposed programme, will be positively taken into account during the evaluations. Selected doctoral programmes will be co-funded for 36 to 60 months. Each researcher must be enrolled in a doctoral programme. Candidates to the programmes should be able to choose among research projects of their preference. Attention is paid to the quality of supervision and mentoring arrangements as well as career guidance.
The main activities of a COFUND programme (just under two thirds of the total budget) will be awarding fellowships to experienced researchers, with a training and career development objective. The fellowship would normally include a research project prepared by the research fellow in coordination with a host organisation. Fellowships must be granted via regular calls for proposals, internationally advertised and published, with fixed deadlines or regular cut-off dates (max. 4 per year). Researchers must be recruited for a minimum of 3 months, but the typical appointment of researchers is expected to be from 12 to 36 months. Fellowship projects should be tailored to the needs of the researcher to allow him or her to reach a realistic and well-defined objective in terms of gaining new experience or career advancement, such as strengthening or attaining a leading independent position, resuming a research career after a break, etc. COFUND participants submit multi-annual proposals for specific fellowships/research training programmes for co-funding. These programmes must include at least one form of transnational mobility, such as incoming or outgoing mobility of researchers or an action to reintegrate them into research employment in Europe. Given that the aim of the co-funding is the support of individual highly qualified, experienced researchers at different stages of their careers, research teams will not be funded.