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The old world

The Volkswagen Foundation addresses Europe’s ageing population

Germany’s Volkswagen Foundation is known for encouraging collaborative societal challenge-focused research, and this is true of its latest call. This year its ‘challenges for Europe’ grants focus on ageing, with up to €1 million available for projects with three partners or up to €1.5m for projects with five partners. All partnerships should include investigators from at least three different countries, with the main applicant based at a German research institution.

The call is primarily targeted at the humanities, social sciences and cultural sciences, where the foundation says research is lacking on ageing, but cross-disciplinary projects with other fields are also encouraged. Additional funding is available for summer schools and research communication, and the deadline for applications is 23 July.

Annabella Fick, who oversees the funding programme, gives some pointers to applicants.

What topics may be examined?

There are so many topics connected to ageing or to life-course research. There is the issue of ageing and brain drain—for Europe, that is a topic that is getting more important, especially for the newer EU members like Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia. 

Other topics that are connected include lifelong learning, the political implications of an older population or questions about sustainability. Diverse disciplines could connect for this call.

How many grants will there be?

We don’t have a set number because, as usual with the Volkswagen Foundation, we just look at what proposals come in. We will not fund 50 projects—we don’t have the money for that—but it could be three or five or 10 because it really depends on the quality of proposals. 

We are running a two-stage process so pre-proposals will be evaluated by the review panel and a small number will be selected for presentations. When projects make it through the first stage, they have a pretty good chance of getting funded. It is the first stage that is challenging.

What should applicants focus on in the first stage?

We expect people to think about whether there is already a lot of research done in their chosen field and, if the answer is yes, they have to find an original niche. 

The pre-proposal should say something about the theoretical framework and methodology that’s going to be used—that does not have to be extensive, but it should show the reviewers that you have a feasible idea of how things are going to happen. 

Finally, the network itself should be briefly explained because the network idea is very important in this call. It should be obvious why you collected this group of people for your proposal and why the countries in question have been chosen.

What kind of combination of countries are you looking for?

We don’t exclude any kind of combination but we encourage projects to consider partnering with researchers from eastern or southern European countries. 

There are already quite a number of networks in place between Germany and France, the Netherlands and Scandinavian countries, but there are fewer networks with countries in eastern and southern Europe. But it also does not make sense to have a network with Bulgaria, Romania or Poland if the research question doesn’t fit the project, so it’s not a requirement.

Is there any preference between projects focusing on the EU or Europe as a region?

There’s no preference there. There are some questions that make sense to ask considering the EU as the framework, but we mainly just want to encourage cross-European research.

Are there any common mistakes applicants should avoid in pre-proposals?

Usually, it’s the very basic thing of not properly reading the information for applicants because sometimes there are simple mistakes such as having too many principal investigators or too high a budget. You have to have a PhD to apply and every principal investigator needs to have a PhD, but this is something that some people overlook. 

Also, the project should be explained with utmost clarity. If people try to get too much detail into the pre-proposal and lose the flow of the text, then it is too much of a challenge for the reviewers.

Are there any other stipulations?

We expect projects to have either a young postdoc or a PhD as part of the project group and, ideally, every partner should have a junior researcher included in the project. It’s appreciated when we see that junior researchers are fully included in the team, so it helps if you briefly outline how the project will be a beneficial experience for them.

Can you tell us more about the additional funding elements?

Successful projects can apply for funds for communication. We don’t have a fixed allocation for this but from my experience it can be up to €100,000. We are also funding summer schools for people who are not already connected to researchers in Germany, as a foundation for future cooperation. You don’t have to have a big proposal and a big network—one or two people can connect to a German collaborator and apply for a summer school together.  

This is an extract from an article in Research Professional’s Funding Insight service. To subscribe contact sales@researchresearch.com