Brussels (Khrono): What influences youth fertility in today’s society?
The question is the focus of a research project that will now be funded with €14 million, approximately 150 million kronor, in which they will look at how biological and social factors affect fertility.
Biological factors from fetal and childhood life can affect the fertility status of young people, as well as social and societal conditions that influence opportunities and choices about family formation and partner choice.
Researchers in Norway who have been awarded the ERC Synergy Scholarship
2013: Eystein Jansen and Kerim Nisancioglu, both from UiB
2014-2017: No ads
2018: Mats Carlson, UiO
2019: Unni Olsbye, UiO and Vincent Eijsink, NMBU (shared on the same project)
2020: Andrea Bender, UiB
2020: Edward Moser, NTNU
2020: James Barrett, NTNU (moved to Norway after project approval)
2021: no announcement
2022: Siri Eldevik Håberg, FHI
That’s what Siri Eldevik Haberg, head of the Fertility and Health Center at the Institute of Public Health, wrote in an email to Khrono. Håberg is one of three research leaders on the BIOSFER project, which has now earned millions.
parts of billions
The research project is one of 29 projects awarded today so-called Synergy Grants from the European Research Council (ERC), which go to groundbreaking research. The award is awarded to groups of one to four researchers. There is an average of about ten million euros in the pot, but the Håberg project is part of it and will therefore receive a much higher amount. In all, 295 million euros, about three billion Norwegian kroner, were allocated to 29 projects.
The list of Norwegian researchers who have received such grants is not long. An overview obtained by Khrono from the Research Council shows that he previously went to eight researchers in Norway, divided into six projects. One of the eight moved to Norway after the project was approved (see full list in the facts box).
This is the first time that an FHI scholar has received such a scholarship. Håberg is the only Norwegian among 105 researchers split on projects that now receive multi-million dollar funding. You will lead the project with researchers at Aarhus University in Denmark and the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Germany respectively.
Information collected on 200,000 young people
The project will last six years, according to Heberg, scientific work will be carried out on an equal footing in the three institutions. She says they will bring together an interdisciplinary environment that includes genetics, demography, psychology, and epidemiology. In addition to the well-known researchers, about ten postdocs will be appointed.
The FHI researcher also says that the data from Norwegian Mother, Father and Child Survey (MoBa) It is fundamental to the project. According to FHI, this is one of the largest health surveys in the world, with the participation of 114,500 children, 95,000 mothers and 75,000 fathers.
“FHI coordinates and implements the new data collection process underpinning the project,” she adds.
Additionally, data from another large study where they followed families from conception to adulthood, the Danish Study of Better Health in Generations, will be used. According to Håberg, they collected information on 200,000 young adults who are now on their way to adulthood, right before they were born.
We can find out what factors are important to biological fertility, for example how the quality of sperm or egg cells is affected by environmental factors early in life. We also want to know to what extent young people have knowledge of fertility and what ideas they have about how many children they want. We will examine whether more information provides a basis for other choices among young people. Because we have data on young people now and do not use “old” data, we will gain knowledge about the situation of young people today, says the researcher at FHI.
Fierce competition for money
As I said, there are quite a few Norwegian researchers who have been awarded such large grants. The first to receive ERC synergies grants in Norway were Professors Karim Nisancioglu and Estin Jansen at the University of Bergen, who in 2013 received millions to research what happens to the ice in Greenland if the sea ice in the Norwegian Sea disappears.
Janssen, who also sits on the ERC’s scientific board, told Khrono that the money enabled them to set up a collaboration that they tried to establish with other funding.
“It’s a great opportunity to research very difficult and complex questions, it’s a unique position to have as a researcher such good resources to work focused over time,” he says, adding that it differs from SFFs in that it is more focused around a problem limited.
At the same time, there is a fierce battle for this money, very few of those who spend hours writing applications actually receive support. The 29 projects now receiving support were among the nearly 360 projects that were supported. In other words, there is a total percentage of about eight percent. Never seen before for this award, as was the case for a number of awards from ERC.
Is there a problem that the competition for these funds is so fierce that very few actually enter through the eye of the needle?
“Yes, sure,” Jansen says and explains that the approval rate was only three percent when he and Nisancioglu received support in their time.
“It’s a ridiculously low number given the many research ideas that can’t be implemented,” he says.
Jansen adds that the ERC has a policy of prioritizing younger researchers, and says that they will therefore be keen to spend money on grants targeting established researchers, as they may exceed the percentage awarded to younger researchers.
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