The Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions: a key contributor to the EU’s competitiveness by boosting skills
Announced by President Ursula von der Leyen’s in her 2022 State of the Union address, the European Year of Skills initiative aims at boosting the European Union’s competitiveness, investment in training and upskilling opportunities. This will make sure that the EU’s workforce acquires the skills demanded on the labour market today. A skilled workforce is a key driver of growth, enhancing the innovation power and competitiveness of all European companies, in particular small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
Significant EU funding is available to support Member States' investment in up- and reskilling, including via the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA). Since 1996, the MSCA are the European Union’s prestigious and highly sought-after flagship funding programme supporting researchers from all over the world at all stages of their careers – be they doctoral candidates or highly experienced researchers. The MSCA are open to all domains of research and innovation, chosen freely by the applicants in a fully ‘bottom-up’ manner.
With a budget of EUR 6.6 billion under Horizon Europe, the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions contribute to excellent research, boosting jobs, growth and investment by equipping researchers of any nationality with new knowledge and skills. They also benefit institutions by supporting excellent doctoral, postdoctoral programmes and collaborative research and innovation projects. This helps boost the institutions’ global attractiveness and visibility, and fosters cooperation beyond academia, including with large companies and SMEs.
Between 1996 and 2027, over 200.000 researchers will have participated in the MSCA, of which 64.000 are PhD candidates. Since 2014, more than 8.700 organisations from over 130 countries have been involved in the programme. It has also funded 1.180 international doctoral programmes.
Today the MSCA continue to foster cooperation between academia and industry to enable the next generation to successfully navigate labour market changes in accordance with the EU’s green and digital transitions.
The MSCA and EU policy
The MSCA are fully in line with the main orientations of Horizon Europe, contributing directly to the European Commission’s key policy priorities, and supporting bottom-up and frontier/applied research. The programme is a key enabler of solutions for the EU's societal challenges and engages policy-makers, innovators, researchers and citizens in EU research and innovation policymaking and projects.
Policy priorities of the MSCA include the European Green Deal, the Climate Pact and the EU Research and Innovation Missions. The recent MSCA Cluster events on Cancer, European Green Deal, and Ocean and Waters are an example of how the European Commission actively works to build links between researchers and policymakers. This ensures better evidence-based policymaking and expands researchers’ career prospects to go beyond academia.
In fact, under the MSCA Work Programme 2023-24, a new feedback-to-policy initiative will be funded to make stronger thematic links between MSCA projects, raise visibility of their contribution to key EU policy priorities and gather stakeholder feedback on ways to maximise the programme's impact.
“Excellence, Research, Mobility”
A key objective of the MSCA is to link the European Education Area (EEA) and the European Research Area (ERA), in particular through doctoral programmes, and through the development of skills in education and research. The programme supports citizens, broad public programmes, private organisations and researchers’ careers to foster excellence in European research and innovation (R&I). Additionally, they have a structuring impact on higher education institutions and other research organisations, much beyond academia. This is achieved by widely spreading excellence and setting standards for high-quality researcher education and training, across the ERA and worldwide.
The MSCA also co-finance regional, national and international doctoral and postdoctoral programmes via the MSCA COFUND Action, and promote staff exchanges through the MSCA Staff Exchanges Action. This has further boosted ties between academia and industry, involving more than 5.100 companies and 2.650 SMEs since 2014.
Attractive employment conditions and inclusiveness
Since their creation, the MSCA have placed a strong emphasis on promoting gender, equal opportunities and inclusiveness for their fellows, and within their projects. Indeed, the MSCA require transparent, merit-based recruitment and attractive employment and working conditions for researchers, in line with the principles of the European Charter for Researchers and the Code of Conduct for the Recruitment of Researchers. MSCA grants also allow for part-time work and parental leave. Furthermore, MSCA projects are encouraged to facilitate access to researchers at risk.
Why are the MSCA critical for researchers’ skills?
The MSCA respond to Europe’s continuing need for a highly skilled and research-based human capital that can easily find solutions for current and future challenges. A key example is the MSCA’s support for a solution to the COVID-19 crisis.
The MSCA are a ‘game changer’ in the support of European researchers, focussing on excellence in various aspects: it does not only apply to the individual fellows supported or the collaborations fostered and knowledge transferred. Excellence also concerns the R&I methodologies applied, the research conducted as well as the training, supervision and career guidance provided. Long-term investment in people pays off, as indicated among others by the number of Nobel Prize winners who have been either former MSCA fellows or supervisors.
MSCA and the Nobel Prize
Over the past 26 years, the programme has evolved reflecting the needs of the scientific community and opening to the world. Whilst mobility of researchers was already contemplated as part of the European Commission’s very early framework programmes, it took full shape in the 4th Framework Programme (1994-98) with the branding under Marie Curie Fellowships. In 2014, under Horizon 2020, the programme was ‘rebranded’ and named after Marie Skłodowska-Curie, the double Nobel prize winning scientist in physics (1903) and chemistry (1911), to honour and spread the values she stood for.
From 2013 to 2022, the MSCA programme has produced as many as 15 successful Nobel prize winning laureates, with three winners in 2022 alone, an achievement Marie Skłodowska-Curie would be proud of today.
The Nobel Prize in Physics 2022 was awarded to Alain Aspect and Anton Zeilinger, both of whom took part in the MSCA as former supervisors for “experiments with entangled photons, establishing the violation of Bell inequalities and pioneering quantum information science”. The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2022 was awarded to Morten Meldal, similarly a past MSCA supervisor for his work on "the development of click chemistry and bioorthogonal chemistry".
In addition to MSCA supervisors, previous MSCA fellows have received the prestigious Nobel prize. Emmanuelle Charpentier, one of the few former female MSCA fellows and later on coordinator of the MSCA project ENLIGHT-TEN ITN, won a Nobel prize for Chemistry in 2020 for developing tools to edit DNA. Professor Stefan W. Hell, also a past MSCA fellow and later coordinator of three MSCA projects, whose multidisciplinary research earned him a Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2014, famously stated that his participation in the programme came at ‘a critical moment in my career’.
MSCA funding opportunities: €886 million are available in 2023
Are you at the start of your research career or thinking of pursuing a PhD abroad after your Master’s degree? Are you a researcher holding a PhD, wishing to acquire new skills and innovation potential? In all cases, the MSCA have something for you!
On 7 December, the Commission announced new calls for project proposals to support researchers' training, skills and career development under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions. The MSCA Work Programme 2023-24 provides over €886 million in 2023, and €902 million in 2024 covering the five main actions of the work programme:
- MSCA Doctoral Networks implement programmes training doctoral candidates in academia and other sectors, including industry and businesses. The next call for proposals opens on 30 May 2023 and closes on 28 November 2023.
- MSCA Postdoctoral Fellowships enhance the creative and innovative potential of researchers holding a PhD and wishing to acquire new skills through advanced training and international, interdisciplinary and inter-sectoral mobility. The next call for proposals opens on 12 April 2023 and closes on 13 September 2023.
- MSCA Staff Exchanges develop international, inter-sectoral and interdisciplinary sustainable collaboration in research and innovation through exchanging staff. The scheme helps turn ideas into innovative products, services or processes. This year’s call for project proposals opens on 5 October 2023 and closes on 28 February 2024.
- MSCA COFUND co-finances new or existing doctoral programmes and postdoctoral fellowship schemes in EU Member States or Horizon Europe Associated Countries with the aim of spreading best practices of the MSCA. This year’s call for project proposals opens on 10 October 2023 and closes on 8 February 2024.
- MSCA and Citizens brings research closer to students, families and the public at large mainly through the European Researchers' Night and Researchers at Schools. The action increases awareness of the impact of researchers' work on citizens' lives, society and the economy. It also aims to raise the interest of young people in research and scientific careers. The next call for proposals opens on 20 June 2023 and closes on 25 October 2023.
- Publication date
- 24 January 2023
- European Research Executive Agency