There is a batch of ‘Christmas gifts’ booked by the Ministry of Science and the Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT) for the end of this year. After more than a year has passed without opening a competition to finance scientific projects and postponing the evaluation of research centers, Minister Elvira Fortunato confirmed that applications to compete for the funds necessary to develop projects will be opened before the end of the year. Moreover: after New Year’s Eve, we will also have the opening of a thousand vacancies for the FCT-Tenure programme, which is the new government program and the FCT program to transfer part of the contracts of precarious scientists.
This is news that has been long awaited by the Portuguese scientific community, as funding research projects is one of the main guarantees for scientists to have the funds needed to do their work – this includes, for example, purchasing materials or the constitution from a team, with other scientists. Applications for these projects are intended to fund three years of research – after this period, new applications from researchers will generally be needed again.
The opening of project competitions, now scheduled for December (applications will remain open until February 2024), will result in an increase in available funding. The total value of the prizes for the project competition in all scientific fields is usually 75 million euros for distribution, but this year this amount rises to 122 million euros, as Elvira Fortunato announced at the end of October, at the Socialist Women’s Congress. One of the frequent criticisms of this competition is the low approval rate of projects, in 2022, it was 8.3% of approved applications.
This Tuesday, Explanatory note From the Ministry of Science, Technology and Higher Education, regarding the state’s general budget for the year 2024, it included other confirmations. FCT-Tenure, the new FCT competition that creates 1,000 vacancies with direct entry into the teaching or scientific profession, will open in the first quarter of 2024, a period in which scientists with fixed-term contracts can apply for a permanent contract. In addition to these 1,000 places, a new application phase will open in 2025 for a further 400 places. In July this year, MCTES indicated that there were 3,905 active unsettled contracts in the national scientific system.
In addition to this competition, there is also a new version of the Scientific Recruitment Incentive Competition, through which MCTES hopes to secure a contract for another 400 PhD researchers. This competition is expected to open in the first half of 2024.
In the same explanatory note there is space for the intention to “create highly qualified employment opportunities by integrating doctorates into non-academic settings”. This is something that MCTES has already announced to PÚBLICO, with the creation of a new competition to place scientists in companies, museums or public administrations, with financial support from the FCT. There is no announced start date yet. Another measure included in the state budget, but without explanation of how it will be implemented, is a new line of the ERC-Portugal program to attract top international scientists to Portuguese institutions.
In addition to these changes, announced midway between the MCTES and the FCT, there are also dates for the new evaluation of Portuguese research centres: it will take place between March and October 2024, with applications starting in November this year. Through this evaluation, laboratories and research centers will receive funding according to their classification. Among the factors that are calculated are the number of researchers, scientific production and its impact, or the condition of facilities.
FCT’s financial implementation breaks record
The financial implementation of the FCT, that is, the expenditures actually made by the institution, broke a new record in 2022. In the MCTES explanatory note on next year’s state budget, the Ministry indicates that this value reached €618.1 million – exceeding the estimate of €590.8 million , expected at the end of last year. This means implementing 97% of the budget allocated to the FCT.
Estimates for this year are also similar. Fiscal spending forecasts in 2023 reach $628.2 million (a new record) and represent 95% implementation, in line with the latest FCT figures.
It must be remembered that even with rising FCT budgets, the implementation of these values has always been deficient. For example, in the 2020 state budget, a record financing of €685 million was included for the FCT Fund. However, only €533 million was actually implemented that year.
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