For several generations of the Framework Programme (FP) on Research and Innovation, simplification has remained at the top of the implementation agenda. The European Commission had promised that Horizon 2020 would enhance simplification, in particular through streamlined funding rates and other simplified rules for participation. The mid-term review of Horizon 2020 provides a timely opportunity to assess the extent to which the programme has delivered on its promises so far, and to define the scope for further simplification.
EUA has been actively participating in the policy dialogue on simplification, advocating for real, beneficiary-focused improvement of the implementation procedures. Based on its recent member consultation, which paid special attention to the application, evaluation, funding and reporting matters, EUA can provide further core evidence to this debate.
European universities broadly welcome the progress achieved by Horizon 2020 in some areas, such as easier access to and management of documentation through the Participant Portal, as well as improved time to grant. However, there are still several important bottlenecks to solve.
Universities continue to experience difficulty in applying their usual institutional accounting practices, e.g. for the calculation of personnel and other internal costs. The majority of institutions either have to adapt or set up special procedures to respond to the evolving legal and administrative requirements of the programme. Hence, the most important simplification measure would be to allow beneficiaries to use nationally recognised costing methodologies, and fully accept their institutional management and accounting practices.
The analysis further shows that several specific schemes introduced under Horizon 2020, such as the additional remuneration for personnel and the large research infrastructures scheme, remain largely unused by universities due to their complexity or rigidity. These schemes have thus missed their objectives of improving the cost coverage for some types of participants or for certain indirect costs. It is therefore important to revisit the original objectives and implement simpler alternatives, particularly a general, higher indirect cost rate.
In the current debate, the increased use of the two-stage application procedure is often proposed as a solution to both mitigate low success rates and improve simplification. The feedback from the consultation shows, however, that the use of such procedures has to be adapted to the subject and specific nature of the calls and projects. For the vast majority of respondents, the solution to this problem lies with providing more funding for Horizon 2020. Without this, only minor progress can be achieved through the use of the two-step call procedure or similar measures. Finally, further advancement of the simplification objectives requires more trust and transparency within the programme.