An Opportunity
Bruce Nappi
32

On Doing Educational or Research Projects with European Funding

And the importance of where the money comes from and how

By MARTIN REZNY

As much as I do appreciate your trust and confidence in my ability to pull off something like that, I have to say I was worried that you’re going to suggest such way of financing the project. As someone who has participated in preparation and execution of several projects backed by European grants in the field of education in the past few years, I have already reached the conclusion that doing things this way is just not worth it. I suppose it is a topic that deserves an open letter kind of treatment.

Ignoring for the moment that right now I don’t even have the financial freedom to devote enough time to writing up a project like that (and that one never necessarily knows how to write it in the expected Kafkaesque style), ignoring that it’s in no way guaranteed to be approved, and ignoring how much of a bureaucratic nightmare it is to properly conduct it without risking returning the funds or paying additional penalties, I can’t make a living that way either, and it’s an unsustainable business model.

Assuming all goes well and the funds are granted, and the research project works out and some progress is made, what then? If one has to resort to European funding, it means there was no financially backed demand in the first place. Not even a local political or popular demand, mind you. Not even a specific academic interest. Indeed it seems that the academic interest in a lot of social science research around here is just to get the European funds. What’s actually done with them doesn’t appear to matter much.

And people notice. I’m not saying the product has to be outright for sale, which it won’t be in all likelihood. I’d love to do a research project for the sake of knowledge/progress alone, however that would require a funding scheme with much fewer strings attached, essentially an independent benefactor. The sustainability, or lack thereof, then enters the equation when you realize that there’s no economically feasible direction into the future in a situation when this funding model as such can simply end at any point. In the past I have written projects the funds for which vanished while we were several months into the process of successfully applying for them.

Furthermore, this approach breeds hostility towards all social science, at least in my part of the world. Unless the projects of this kind are paid for by the people in a much more direct way, it actually erodes democracy, especially if the topic is political. European-funded projects aiming at “improvement” of democracy and social tolerance in particular can’t help but seem like an attempt to override local national sovereignty, and they make academicians look like opportunistic leeches. It doesn’t exactly help that any benefits from such research don’t tend to look very tangible.

Of course, people are not going to pay for such research. Nor corporations.

And it’s not like the backer, in this case various European institutions, don’t have any agenda of their own that has to be reflected in the nature of the funded projects. They do. If in no other way, there’s the basic bureaucratic bias about the formal way in which things have to be done. An approach that even without any particular political content serves to stifle creativity and sacrifice productivity in the name of empty formal efficiency. I’m quitting a job at the end of this month in which the formal requirements imposed by European funding ruined the teaching of English for me.

And those are just the problems with the nature of the funding. In theory, I do know people who might be interested in participation at a project like that; a number of them for all the wrong reasons; many of them not actually competent enough, despite their seemingly adequate academic credentials. And, let’s not forget, I’m not an academic, let alone one with a respectable standing. My knowledge, ability, and experience are for all intents and purposes irrelevant. I’d have to be substantially more well-connected, and if I were, I’d already have no trouble functioning as a researcher somewhere. As is, not even my family, friends, or NGO could, or would, support me.

I’m sorry, but I have no choice in the matter. My current situation and my surrounding environment are simply not conducive to me doing a project like that. Maybe the situation will change, eventually, but for now I have to go with more of an indentured servant kind of approach to my career.

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