As previously announced, the NCN Council has taken measures to stop or slow down success rate decline in NCN calls, caused by insufficient funding that fails to match the needs and expectations of the research community. As of 15 March 2023, the total number of NCN projects that may be headed by a single person and the proposals they may submit for review to the NCN is down to two. This number may be increased to three if at least one of the projects or proposals is part of an international call. PRELUDIUM BIS and DIOSCURI calls do not count toward these limits.
For several months now, the success rate, or the proportion of applicants who are awarded a grant, in NCN calls has been much lower than expected. As a result, very good proposals are now turned down, even though, in the eyes of our reviewers, they fully deserve to be funded.
In the December round of OPUS, the most popular NCN call, the success rate was as low as 13%; it was even lower in our call for entry-level researchers, PRELUDIUM. At the end of February, results came in for SONATA BIS (for researchers who want to set up a new team) and MAESTRO (for advanced researchers); funding was awarded to 14% of applicants in the former and to fewer than 7% in the latter call (in total, to just 5 out of 72 researchers). The success rate has never been this low since the NCN was first founded. According to the NCN Council, if the funding conditions were optimal, grants would go to 25-30% of all applicants.
Such a low success rate is the direct result of NCN’s frozen budget, high inflation and the associated rise in research costs, as well as the generally growing need for basic research funding in the community.
New limits to the number of projects and proposals submitted to the NCN
All appeals made by the NCN to the public authorities to have its budget increased have fallen on deaf ears. As a result, as already mentioned, we now need to start the difficult process of limiting grant applications in order to stop or slow down a further decline in the success rate of our calls.
Starting from the calls announced on 15 March (OPUS 25 and PRELUDIUM 22), the total number of NCN project carried out by one person and the number of proposals submitted to the NCN, under review or qualified for funding, in which the person is listed as the principal investigator, will be limited to only two. The limit can be raised to three if at least one of the projects or proposals is part of an international call. PRELUDIUM BIS and DIOSCURI calls do not count toward these limits.
For more information on the limits applicable as of March, consult the specific call announcements on the NCN website.
In dialogue with the community
The NCN Council hopes these new measures will not need to stay in place for long. We understand that, for many active researchers, they may spell significant difficulties, considerably hindering their research work. However, until the financial situation of the NCN is changed and its budget increased, we may expect a need for further limits. In applying them, the Council will try, as far as possible, to limit the nuisance to the research community. We hope that the limits will encourage at least some researchers to apply to international calls more often than before, and the group of domestic call winners will grow to include researchers who have never completed an NCN-funded project before or have fewer such projects under their belt.
In the coming months, we will also create a special survey to ask our applicants about other possible restrictions they think would be the least problematic for their research work and team maintenance. We want these difficult decisions to be taken in communication with the Polish research community, for the benefit of which the NCN was originally established and which it is its mission to serve.
At the same time, we would like to encourage researchers to support the NCN in its efforts to have its budget increased to match the needs and expectations of the community. We need to make the decision-makers understand the importance of adequate basic research funding for the growth of our country; only a joint, concerted effort can change the current position of public authorities.