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New Record of Applications to NSFC

From March 1 to 20, NSFC went through its intense concentrated application submission period. As of 16:00 pm of March 20th, the number of applications to NSFC in 2012 has exceeded 170,000, reaching a historical new high.

In 2011, the Ministry of Finance  allocated 14 billion RMB to the National Natural Science Fund, which indicating that NSFC had entered into a new era. In that year, the number of applications to NSFC kept growing and more than 150,000 applications were received, with an increase of 28.24% than previous year., NSFC funded more than 30,000 projectsin 2011, but more than 100,000 applications ended in vain.

The sharp increase of applications has brought great pressure to the evaluation. To maintain the quality of evaluation and an effective utility of review resources, NSFC continues to encourage research institutions to shift their focus from the quantity to the quality of applications.

"We always hope the number of applications does not increase too fast, because a sharp increase will bring much pressure to evaluation and management. Applications for National Natural Science Fund increase year by year. It does not only intensify the lack in personnel resource, but also leads to a decrease of management and evaluation quality," NSFC President Chen Yiyu said to the reporter of the China Science Daily.

At the Working Meeting for the Management of National Natural Science Fund last year, NSFC staff repeatedly required research institutions to put the quality of applications at the first place.

More funded projects are going to universities and research institutes as the National Natural Science Fund keeps growing in recent years. The enthusiasm of universities and research institutes for the National Natural Science Fund also rises. In fact, the National Natural Science Fund has become a main funding source for many universities and institutes. Research institutions have made various policies to encourage their researchers to apply for the fund. On the one hand, it has contributed to the rapid improvement of the quality of basic research in many research institutions; on the other hand, it has brought much pressure to researchers and teachers.

"Our applications increase about 10% this year. It is a mild increase relatively." Mr.ZhangJiefeng of the Department of Science and Technology of Shenzhen University said to the reporter of the China Science Daily,"Because the enhancement of the management of on-going projects, we are encouraging teachers concerned to focus on their on-going projects."

With a great number of funded projects, Chongqing Medical University carried out its policy to "place quality over quantity", and to put limitations on the application number from its subordinate colleges. Similarly many universities and institutes with large number of applications have slowed down their application growth.

However, now that the National Natural Science Fund has experienced a rapid increase, research institutions with large number of applications and emerging applicants also have sufficient reasons to demand an increase of applications.

NSFC estimates that the number of applications for National Natural Science Fund will continue to increase in the following years.

NSFC has made well-recognized achievements in its 25 years history, but facing the growing number of applications, NSFC President Chen Yiyu frankly admitted that the unprecedented increase of the fund has brought much pressure to the management of the funding and NSFC is challenged by a sharp increase of evaluation and management workload caused by application growth.

Therefore, NSFC is actively making use of new technologies, promote digital application steadily, and gradually realize paperless application and evaluation. Meanwhile, NSFC accelerates the development of the digital assistance system for the selection of peer reviewers, hoping that with the help of computer system, program directors can save much time and effort, so as to improve work efficiency and guarantee evaluation quality.

NSFC is also considering to slow down the growth of applications by limiting the number of projects a researcher can apply for and conduct. For example, NSFC is assessing whether to decrease the maximum number from 3 projects to 2 projects under the condition that the funding for individual project has been increased.

"Emphasizing on quality makes much more sense than on quantity", said Prof. Chen Yiyu, "so far, it seems that our repeated communication with research institutions on this issue has achieved good results. Institutions with large number of applications have shown a good control of application quality in particular. The number of applications for the newly-established fund, which is named with the Fund for Excellent Young Scientist,is around 3,000. The number is much smaller than we expected."

Facing the challenge of a growing number of applications, in order to guarantee and improve the quality of evaluation, NSFC will make a firm resolve to take new measures.

Copyright 2007 Bureau of International Cooperation, NSFC