Budapest University of Technology and Economics (BME) shows how success rates in research programmes start by knowing yourself: the Competence Map case

Hungary is at the forefront of the Eastern Europe energy sector: not only it became one of the first countries in Central Europe to put a carbon neutrality goal for 2050. In the last few years, it has rapidly increased its share of renewable energy sources in gross final energy to reach 12.6% in 2019 and 13.9% at the end of 2020, exceeding the 13% target that Hungary had for 2020. At the centre of these efforts is the Budapest University of Technology and Economics (BME), one of Hungary’s leading academic institutions, representing the country’s oldest technology university and an excellence centre today. Nonetheless, it suffers from the same issues that struck the youngest EU Member States (informally known as EU-13 countries): low success rates in the EU Research Framework Programmes.

To address this situation, BME has created a specific instrument to catalyse opportunities and help researchers show their potential: the BME Competence Map. This Map aims to promote practices to facilitate researchers’ successful participation in Horizon Europe. The young initiative, presented officially in May 2022, is an up-and-coming force at BME with a small but dedicated team. Its cornerstone is to be proactive and maintain a dynamic interaction with its researchers.

According to Dr Borbala Schenk, the BME Competence Map editor, researchers need five types of support when applying to programmes like Horizon Europe. These go beyond the simple excellence of the idea, and entail understanding better what the funder is looking for, support in searching valuable partners, navigating the information systems, finding the right grand and the confidence to pursue new solutions. Still, the Competence Map was born with another goal in mind: to change the way success is measured in research funding. If Horizon is taken as an example, it is not only about funding but mostly about participating in research discussions with academia, industry, and public bodies. “When you enter a consortium, even if you are only leading a task, you are part of a group of people developing innovative concepts. When you enter the scene, it is already a success”. Dr Schenk believes that there is a lot to learn from rejected proposals. The low success rate does not explain everything: according to experience, if you position yourself as a credible partner, even if a proposal does not get funded you will be invited to other cooperations.

Here comes the value of initiatives like the Competence Map. Starting from the initial idea to the proposal submission, the team provides a whole complex set of services to researchers according to their needs. Dr Schenk defines the consultation phase as crucial, comprising information and awareness raising: “What we do is we consult with researchers and groups, create tailor-made advice for them, we scan their expertise and research interest, and we approach them with the possibilities that fit them best”. She even suggests that the initiative may change names: “it is not about competences but about the value propositions that research groups can present, not only to academic partners but also to potential industrial partners”.

The way the Map works is quite simple in its concept. The team gathers information for researchers and research groups, including their areas of excellence and desired areas of study/partnership. This module is growing fast: in October, there were 132 research group profiles and 380 researchers; 3 months later, it shows 147 research groups and 420 researchers. The people behind the Map then actively promote the content available: they provide LinkedIn articles, YouTube videos, and Facebook posts: "it is an important tool to show the world what our researchers know", Dr Schenk says. The Map has a search option based on 33 keywords covering Horizon topics and the university's expertise.