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The University of Copenhagen is winning EU research-funds like no other Danish university

Researchers at the University of Copenhagen receive extensive guidance when applying for funds from the EU and that strategy has paid off. »Other universities are interested in finding out how we do it,« says deputy director.

Since 2014, the University of Copenhagen has managed to secure a little over two billion kroner in EU-funding for 516 research projects.

This means the University of Copenhagen has successfully secured EU-funding for more research projects than any other Danish university and has the highest rate of success among applicants. Looking abroad, only Cambridge, Oxford, and University College London have managed to secure funds for more projects.

So, what is the University of Copenhagen doing that is working so well? Kim Brinckmann is deputy director of the Department of Research and Development, and he is responsible for increasing external funding for the university’s research projects.

According to him, the University of Copenhagen has employed research support-staffers who run workshops on application writing. They also devise individual courses with researchers focused on improving their individual applications. The faculties are also good at sharing their experiences with each other—good and bad—when it comes to applying for funds. That means a lot, says Kim Brinckmann.

One researcher, who has benefitted tremendously from the university’s support, is Jacques Corolan. The postdoc-researcher secured two million kroner from the EU’s Marie Curie-fellowship for his research in light particles and new quantum technologies. According to him, the university’s support was invaluable in the application process.

I’m super impressed by the University of Copenhagen.

Jacques Corolan, postdoc

»I’m super impressed by the University of Copenhagen. I wrote my application while I was at MIT in the United States, and I received a lot of support from SCIENCE (the Faculty of Science, ed.) at the University of Copenhagen. UCPH supplied me with articles about applying for the Marie Curie-fellowship. They went over my application draft with me and helped me understand what to include and what not to include. It was a great help,« says Jacques Coloran.

According to Kim Brinckmann, the success is not only due to the extensive help during the application writing process. First and foremost, the University of Copenhagen has a lot of gifted researchers who write many excellent applications. The rate of success when applying for EU-funding is at times as low as 10-15 percent, so researchers must send out a great deal of applications. The University of Copenhagen has a rate of success of 18 percent, while other Danish universities are successful on 11 to 15 percent of their applications.

A happy rector

The success of the University of Copenhagen when it comes to snatching up EU-funds has not gone unnoticed outside of the university, according to Kim Brinckmann. The University of Copenhagen has also shared its experiences with other Danish universities, he says. In 2019, rector of the University of Copenhagen, Henrik C. Wegener, gave a speech on the Marie Curie-fellowships at a large conference organised by the European Commission. »We make sure to accept invitations like that,« says Kim Brinckmann.

Hot on UCPH’s heels

Technical University of Denmark (DTU) and Aarhus University are closing in on UCPH. DTU, in particular, is doing well with a rate of success at 14.9 percent and 351 EU-financed research projects as opposed to Aarhus University’s 288 projects and rate of success of 14.7 percent.

The rector has also been commending the university’s application success at home. In a speech at a professor dinner in January, which Henrik C. Wegener later posted on his Linkedin-profile, the rector spoke of the »miracle in Copenhagen« and asked his audience, »Do you know what university is top-ranked in the Marie Curie-programme’s pillars of excellence? Not Oxford. Not Cambridge, but Copenhagen.«

In order to be eligible to apply for funding, applicants must meet a list of demands. According to Kim Brinckmann, the EU is currently very focused on applications that present clearly stated goals of the projects—the so-called “impact section” of the application. Kim Brinckmann worries whether this impact can be measured within a short time period, for instance within three to five years, as some of UCPH’s research will only show results within a larger time frame.

Not just for the money

The cost of the university’s application support programme has not been possible to obtain. But considering that more than two billion kroner has been secured over the course of the last five years, it is easy to imagine that the university is sitting on a goldmine. However, Kim Brinckmann does not agree with that interpretation of the facts.

»We evaluate based on whether or not it’s worth the trouble and it’s a sound business decision. But in reality it’s not so much about the money. We pay the research support-staffers anyway so from the university’s perspective it’s an investment. But we also do this in order to internationalise the research, so our researchers can build international networks and gain references which will in turn strengthen their work,« he says.

Jacques Corolan is happy with the system. »The whole process has been much better than what I have experienced at other universities in Europe,« he says. Whether or not this will encourage other universities to adopt the research support-model remains to be seen.

Translated by Theis Duelund

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