In February, we expect the results of the first call for proposals for the 'Teaming of Excellence' strategy across the European Research Area. It is to be hoped that we have learned from previous mistakes.
Attempts by the European Union's Framework Programmes for Research and Technological Development to close gaps in research excellence across the region have been spectacularly unsuccessful. In my view, this failure is a result of excessive bureaucracy and a proposal-evaluation system that was seemingly based neither on merit nor on evidence. The misguided focus on upgrading existing research institutions — rather than on creating state-of-the-art structures that are free of the conventional organizational drag on performance — was also a waste of money.
The Horizon 2020 plan for Teaming of Excellence heralds a new approach. It supports the creation of centres of excellence in member states that are lagging behind in research, set up as joint ventures with excellent partners from other member states. It is to be hoped that the commitment to forming these new centres will take priority under the evaluation criteria, so that this time we can genuinely close structural disparities in science and “spread excellence”.
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Żylicz, M. Spread excellence across Europe. Nature 517, 438 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1038/517438a