South African postdoctoral students interested in furthering their research and academic careers will have an opportunity to apply for prestigious grants under a new partnership agreement between South Africa and the European Research Council (ERC).


ERC grant recipients include eight Noble Prize and three Fields Medal winners. South Africa is the fourth non-European country to conclude an agreement with the ERC, the others being the USA, South Korea and Argentina.


The announcement of the SA-ERC agreement was made during a seminar hosted by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) in collaboration with the National Research Foundation (NRF) to present opportunities for partnership between South Africa and the ERC.


ERC grants fund both advanced and younger researchers, enabling them to establish research teams at European institutions. According to the ERC rules, grant recipients can work outside Europe for a significant part of each year, which means that they can maintain an affiliation with their countries of origin. This will facilitate South Africa's participation in ERC funding schemes, and significantly enhance the country's research and innovation.


During an event at the DST in Pretoria on 13 January 2015, the President of the ERC, Prof. Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, made a presentation on opportunities for South African researchers. He explained that the ERC grant strategy was focused on supporting international scientists and frontier science, among other things, and that the funding scheme prioritised young scientists. Currently, two-thirds of ERC grants are allocated to early-stage young scientists.


NRF Executive Director: International Relations and Cooperation, Dr Aldo Stroebel, said that South Africa was seeing an unprecedented investment in its science landscape, particularly in terms of human resources. Under the SA-ERC bilateral programme, visiting South African NRF fellows will be incorporated into the ERC research teams, a list of which will be made available through the ERC Executive Agency, which is responsible for administering the grants. The NRF will then put out a call for applications.


Issued by the Department of Science and Technology



Khanyisa Ngobeni

012 843 6782

079 968 8131

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Background information on ERC


The ERC is a European Union research council aimed at encouraging high-quality research in Europe through competitive funding. The ERC complements other funding activities in Europe, and is a flagship component of the European Union's Research Framework Programme, Horizon 2020 (H2020), which includes capacity-building opportunities such as the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions. The ERC is now part of H2020's first pillar, "Excellent Science".


The ERC has a total budget of €13,1 billion for the period 2014-2020. This is 60% more than that of the Seventh Framework Programme, which funded European research and technological development from 2007 to 2013.


Established in 2007 by the EU, the ERC is the first pan-European funding organisation for frontier research. It aims to stimulate scientific excellence in Europe by encouraging competition for funding between the very best, most creative researchers of any nationality or age.


The ERC's two core funding schemes are the ERC Starting Grants for top younger, early-career researchers, and the ERC Advanced Grants for senior research leaders. Two smaller initiatives are the ERC Proof of Concept Grants (additional funding to enable researchers to establish the innovation potential of ideas arising from their ERC-funded frontier research projects), and the ERC Synergy Grants (a pilot funding scheme that supports small groups of principal investigators so that they can bring complementary approaches, expertise and resources to research problems).


The ERC operates according to an investigator-driven, or bottom-up, approach, allowing researchers to identify new opportunities in any field of research. Since its launch, the ERC has funded over 2 500 frontier research projects throughout Europe, and has become a measure of the competitiveness of national innovation systems, as it complements existing funding schemes at national and European levels.



Structure of the ERC


The ERC is led by the ERC Scientific Council, which comprises 22 eminent scientists and scholars, including some Nobel Prize winners. The members are appointed by the European Commission, on the recommendation of the independent Identification Committee.


The Chair of the Scientific Council is the President of the ERC, as well as the formal representative of the ERC and its Scientific Council to the European Commission and other bodies. The President chairs the ERC Board and Scientific Council meetings and prepares the agenda. He is assisted by three Vice-Presidents, who are also the Vice-Chairs of the Scientific Council.


For more information, visit the ERC website at