Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions in Horizon Europe: career development for international and excellent researchers

The Marie Sklodowska-Curie program is part of the Excellent Science Pillar in Horizon Europe, which is a continuation of Horizon 2020. It continues to stand out as the human resources recruitment line within the Framework Program, although it incorporates some differences with respect to what we have been seeing in the period from 2014 to 2020.

The main features of the MSCA program are as follows:

Supporting the development of research careers around the world through excellence.

Stimulate international, intersectoral and interdisciplinary cooperation, especially encouraging the participation of the non-academic sector (preferably SMEs).

For researchers at any stage of their career development.

Direct impact on the careers of researchers and research organizations.

Before going into detail about each of the actions included in this program, let’s take a look at some global data on Spanish participation in Horizon 2020 in relation to MSCA. The truth is that we can be proud because we have not done badly at all.


million euros returned


% success rate


Spanish position in H2020

By type of call, Spain has proven to be one of the main powers in attracting research talent of excellence. We are in the third position in the RISE program, with an 11.6% success rate. We are second in individual IF actions with 10.7% of the funds and first country in Europe in COFUND, with a success rate of 22.4%. Where we have “slipped” a bit, due to the high competition, is in the ITN predoctoral networks, where we have finished sixth with a success rate of 7.7%.

Going into the subject of what is to come in 2021 with the start of Horizon Europe, I will describe the main novelties and characteristics of each of the programs that will encompass the MSCA Actions.

MSCA Doctoral Networks

These are formerly known as ITNs or Innovative Training Networks, which are pre-doctoral training networks.

They aim to train creative, entrepreneurial, innovative and resilient PhD candidates, capable of meeting current and future challenges and of converting knowledge and ideas into products and services for economic and social benefit. MSCA PhD networks will equip researchers with the right mix of research-related and transferable skills and offer them better career prospects in both academic and non-academic sectors through international, interdisciplinary, and cross-sectoral mobility combined with an innovation-oriented mindset.

  • 2021: 22 June – 16 November
  • 2022: 3 May- 15 November
  • For consortia of at least 3 independent institutions from 3 Member States or Associated Countries.
  • Universities, research institutions, SMEs, any other type of company or socio-economic actor can participate.
  • Only one type of action will include industrial doctorates and joint doctorates.
  • Maximum 360 person/month (PM) with the possibility to apply for an incentive of another 180 PM for industrial and joint doctorates.
  • Candidates without a PhD degree at the time of recruitment.
  • Maximum 48 months duration, with contracts for predocs between 3 and 36 months.
  • Secondments of a maximum of 1/3 of the contract duration.
  • No single EU country or international organization may not receive more than 40% of the budget.
  • The evaluation criteria are maintained with the following weight: 50% excellence, 30% impact and 20% implementation.
  • For Industrial Doctorates researchers will have to spend at least 50% of their time in the non-academic sector.
  • Recruited researcher per PM
    • Living allowance: 3400 euros
    • Mobility allowance: 600 euros
    • Family allowance: 660 euros
    • Special needs allowance: 4000 euros x % covered by the beneficiary
    • Long-term leave allowance: 4000 euros x % covered by the beneficiary
  • Institutional unit contributions per PM
    • Research, training and networking: 1600 euros
    • Management and indirect costs: 1200 euros
  • Regrouping of all the modalities that existed in H2020 into a single action to build doctoral programs.
  • Single evaluation ranking list for all types of networks, industrial and joint doctorates no longer compete separately.
  • “Downgrading” of the number of PM that can be applied for per project.
  • Increased secondment time, no longer limited to a maximum of 6 months.
  • Restrictions for resubmission of proposals: will apply for the 2022 call to all those proposals that receive less than 80%. It seems that this will be a “recommendation” in this first call but, if people do not pay attention, they will become stricter due to the avalanche of proposals they have received in recent years, many of them very similar.

MSCA Postdoctoral Fellowhips

In H2020 they were what we called Individual Fellowships. The aim of the MSCA Postdoctoral Fellowships is to enhance the creative and innovative potential of researchers who hold a PhD and wish to acquire new skills through advanced training and international, interdisciplinary and intersectoral mobility. MSCA postdoctoral fellowships are open to excellent researchers of any nationality, including researchers wishing to reintegrate in Europe, researchers displaced by conflict, as well as high-potential researchers wishing to restart their research careers. The scheme also encourages researchers to work on research and innovation projects in the non-academic sector.

  • 2021: 22 June – 12 October
  • 2022: 13 April- 14 September
  • Monobeneficiary actions open to researchers of any nationality.
  • International, intersectoral and interdisciplinary experience.
  • One single action with two destinations: European (EF) and Global (GF) Postdoctoral Fellowships.
  • Secondments in any country for a maximum of 1/3 of the duration of the contract.
  • The duration remains the same as in H2020: 12-24 months for EFs and 24-36 months for GFs.
  • Academic and non-academic skills will be developed, intensifying the exposure in those sectors that go beyond the academic environment.
  • The evaluation criteria are maintained with the following percentages: 50% excellence, 30% impact and 20% implementation.
  • Recruited researcher per PM
    • Living allowance: 5080 euros
    • Mobility allowance: 600 euros
    • Family allowance: 660 euros
    • Special needs allowance: requested unit x (1/number of months)
    • Long-term leave allowance: 5080 euros x % covered by the beneficiary
  • Institutional unit contributions per PM
    • Research, training and networking: 1000 euros
    • Management and indirect costs: 650 euros
  • The CAR, RI, and SE panels disappear so that the non-academic sector and “reintegrated” researchers or those restarting their research careers compete on an equal footing under the standard scientific panels.
  • In the EFs there will be no separate panels but integrated incentives will be given.
  • An incentive for an additional period of up to 6 months to work in the non-academic sector at the end of the contract.
  • Post-doctoral experience is limited to be eligible for these contracts. If in H2020 anyone with a Ph.D. could apply, now in Horizon Europe you must have less than 8 years of postdoctoral experience.
  • It is no longer sufficient to demonstrate at least 4 years of research experience even if you do not have the degree.
  • Secondments can be done anywhere in the world.
  • Euratom thematic areas are included within the existing scientific panels – approximately 1 million euros per year.
  • Resubmissions will be restricted in 2022 in cases where they are below 70% score, although it is not yet known what this threshold will be definitive.

MSCA Staff Exchanges

In H2020 these were the well-known RISE. They focus on promoting innovative international, cross-sector and interdisciplinary research and innovation collaboration through the exchange of personnel and the sharing of knowledge and ideas at all stages of the innovation chain. The scheme fosters a shared culture of research and innovation that welcomes and rewards creativity and entrepreneurship and helps turn ideas into innovative products, services or processes. It is open to research, technical, administrative and managerial staff.

  • 2021: 7 October – 9 March 2022
  • 2022: 6 October – 8 March 2023
  • This is the most international action of the MSCA program.
  • Open to the exchange of any type of personnel involved in research activities (researchers, administrative, technical, infrastructure operators). This person must be engaged in these research tasks at least 1 month before the secondment.
  • Secondments with international, interdisciplinary, and intersectoral dimensions.
  • It is a tool to support other R&D&I projects.
  • 4 years of project implementation.
  • The number of PM is reduced to 360 per project.
  • Consortia of at least 3 legal entities from 3 different countries, of which 2 must be in a Member State or Associated Country.
  • The evaluation criteria are maintained with the following percentages: 50% excellence, 30% impact, and 20% implementation.
  • Contributions for seconded staff memebers per PM
    • Allowance: 2300 euros
    • Special needs allowance: requested unit x (1/number of months)
  • Institutional unit contributions per PM
    • Research, training and networking: 1300 euros
    • Management and indirect costs: 1000 euros

It is expected that the institutions participating in these projects will continue to pay the salary of the person performing the secondment for the duration of the project.

  • Reduction of the number of PM per action to 360.
  • Special emphasis will be given to the real and added value of the collaboration itself.
  • Interdisciplinary secondments within Europe will be possible (e.g. between academia), with a maximum duration of 1/3 of the project FPs.


Under the same name as H2020, it co-funds new or existing Ph.D. programs and postdoctoral fellowship schemes at the national, regional or international level with the objective of disseminating MSCA best practices, including international, intersectoral, and interdisciplinary research training, as well as transnational and intersectoral mobility of researchers at all stages of their careers.

  • 2021: 12 October – 10 February 2022
  • 2022: 11 October – 9 February 2023
  • Program for co-financing of doctoral and postdoctoral programs.
  • The EU financial contribution covers minimum living and mobility allowances.
  • 10 million euros per beneficiary and per call.
  • The maximum duration of the programs of 60 months.
  • Secondments of up to 1/3 of the duration of the contract may be enjoyed.
  • Both organizations from the European Union and associated countries can be beneficiaries, on an individual basis, and with a commitment to hiring at least 3 researchers.
  • It is important to create a career development plan between the supervisor and the researcher prior to the contract, which will be reviewed every 18 months.
  • The evaluation criteria are maintained with the following percentages: 50% excellence, 30% impact and 20% implementation.
  • COFUND Allowance
    • Doctoral programmes: 2800 euros + long-term leave allowance (si aplica). Esta long-term allowance sería 2800 x % covered by the beneficiary.
    • Postdoctoral programmes: 3980euros + long-term leave allowance (si aplica). Esta long-term allowance sería 3980 x % covered by the beneficiary.
    • It can be requested special needs allowance under the following formula: requested unit x (1/number of months).
  • They are going to put a lot of focus on new beneficiaries and new training programs. This will undoubtedly be a challenge for Spain, which is the country with the highest success rate in the program.
  • Innovations will have to be highlighted, especially when funding has already been obtained from this program.
  • Synergies will be sought with structural funds.
  • Simplification of the financial contribution. 70% of the living+mobility allowances will be given.
  • Indirect costs and management costs of COFUND funding will disappear.
  • Creation of the MSCA Cofund Seal of Excellence for projects scoring 85% or higher.

MSCA and Citizens

MSCA and citizens, through the European Researchers’ Night, aims to bring research and researchers closer to the general public, raise awareness of research and innovation activities and boost public recognition of science and research education. It will also showcase the role of the researcher for society and the economy, as well as the impact of researchers’ work on the daily lives of citizens, and will aim to increase young people’s interest in research and scientific careers.

The focus will be on EU priorities, such as the European Green Deal, and on the themes of the Missions.

The main novelty is that it will be funded in lump sum format with an amount of between 50,000 and 150,000 euros, the next call being scheduled for June 17, 2021, with a closing date of October 7.

Things that we will have to take into account from now on…

If 30% of the content of the proposal, including the consortium, is repeated and also falls below 80 points, the proposal will be discarded.

Maternity and paternity leave will automatically deduct 1.5 years from the eligibility periods for postdoctoral contracts.

SMEs are still eligible even if there is no specific panel for them.

The candidate's CV and the project should be well balanced in postdoctoral actions.


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