A Few Thoughts on GAČR Grants

published 2018-12-18

The Czech Science Foundation has recently published a list of projects, which will receive its support. The Foundation does it once a year, so there are quite some of them. I've had a look on the list trying to answer, who the winners actually are.

Disclaimer

I'm employed by the University of Chemistry and Technology, Prague, which attended the competition and appears in my plots. Also, I'm a holder of one of the Junior grants. Both of these could be a source of a conflict of interest. Nonetheless, I analyzed the data just from curiosity and as a programming exercises without being motivated by other means. In many respects though, the results speak in favor of my employer.

The Czech Science Foundation...

...also known as GAČR (acronym of its Czech name) is the main source of grants for basic research in the Czech Republic. The president of GAČR is Czech, most of the committee members are Czechs, and most of the grantees are Czechs (I'll get to this later). The Foundation divides a budget of about 4.22×109 CZK. Besides the bilateral international grants, there were three national calls last time:

The results announced that starting 2019 there will be received 103 junior grants, 585 standard grants and 36 excellent grants. The numbers will change slightly, since some of the applicants succeeded in more than one category, but can run only one grant.

Who Are the Grantees?

Two plots below show the fractions of female PIs, and the fractions of foreigner PIs in the approved projects (roughly judged by names) . In any case, all of them must have be affiliated to a Czech research institution. If you are a fan of gender equalization, you probably appreciate the junior grant scheme, where almost half of the grants go to female scientists. On the other hand, the excellent science seem to be done only by a club of Czech gentlemen (bearing in mind what is in the Epilogue). I couldn't include any sort of normalization with respect to the number (and gender) of applicants, since these data are not public. There certainly is a space for improvement in the standard and excellent schemes, no matter if the low proportion of women is due to low number of female applicants or low approval rate of their projects.

The fraction of Czech PIs is rather high in all of the schemes. This may suggest a poor internationalization of the Czech science. Personally, I don't find the Czech environment foreigner-friendly. In any case, the junior scheme with its 25% of non-Czech PIs gives a hope that we are on the right track to improve.

Institutions

There are a few plots below which show, how the Czech institutions performed in the calls. I dared to join something over 50 institutes of the Czech Academy of Sciences (AV ČR) into a single column. The same is true about faculties of Czech universities. The results below, based on numbers of grant awarded, get us a very coarse insight into basic science funding.

The largest number of GAČR grants was awarded to the Czech Academy of Sciences. Not surprisingly, this network of institutes if mainly focused on basic research. Second place goes to the Charles University in Prague - to the largest Czech university.

In fact, the plot somewhat reflects the sizes of Czech research institutions. But is it really so amazing to receive a lot of grants if you are a big institution? The size of an institutions can be expressed, for example, in the number of its employees (or so called "average full-time equivalents" FTE). I collected the numbers from the annual reports of the institutions and normalized the grants according to them. (Note that the FTEs include also non-academic positions, such as administration or services.)

Another measure of the institution size can be the budget, which the institution receives from the Czech goverment. The Czech Academy of Sciences gets money from a special chapter (is it the right word?), while all the public universities belong to the same chapter. The 2018 budgets of universities were taken from the Ministry of education, youth and sports. The Academy of Sciences published it here. The budges do not include the money from grants, patents, licences, services, etc.

The Czech Academy of Sciences (AV ČR) is still the leader in both of these relative measures. What may be surprising is the second place of the University of Chemistry and Technology, Prague (VŠCHT Praha). Relative to its size, VŠCHT Praha receives a nice chunk of support from GAČR compared to the other universities. The reasons may be various and they cannot be inferred from the data. Poor performance in this measure may also mean that a university has a lot of research money from other sources (e.g. TAČR), is not so involved in basic research (faculties of education) or is simply bad in getting GAČR money.

There are two more measures which I find interesting:

Both plots show that the University of Chemistry and Technology, Prague (VŠCHT Praha) has the highest proportion of young and excellent researchers who reached the support of GAČR as compared to the number of standards grants. Notably, Masaryk Univeristy in Brno (MUNI Brno) ranked third in both indicators being also the second runner-up in the absolute numbers. Due to low numbers of junior and, especially, excellent grants, this indicator suffers from high uncertainties.

Conclusions

To conclude, first I formulate my assumptions. For research...

Taken together, the Czech Academy of Sciences is the winner of the GAČR grants. By definition, basic research is where the Academy should outshine. It is worth mentioning that its employees are full-time researchers. Unlike university employees they don't need to teach and supervise student theses. It is remarkable then that the University of Chemistry and Technology, Prague, as well as the largest universities in Prague, Brno, and Olomouc are almost on par with the Academy in the grants/budget indicator.

Epilogue

Being critical, it is not the number of GAČR grants which is the ultimate measure of scientific success indeed. The institutions probed are very diverse in many respects such as size, focus, social role, location or source of money. The plots above show only what they show, and it would take much more time to rationalize them. Two major things are missing in my current analyses: namely the data about the applicants (not only about grantees) and the budges of the approved grants. It would be nice to find out, what fraction of female candidates was awarded, which institution had the highest success rate, or how much money the grants bring to the institutions. If I'm not wrong, based on the law of accessing information, it should be possible to get the data from GAČR. Does anyone volunteer to request them? I'll be more than happy to help with the analyses then.

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Prepared with Jupyter, Pandas, and Plot.ly during a train journey from Göttingen, Germany, to Prague.