Horizon Europe: Excellent Science - Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) Doctoral Networks

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Horizon Europe is the ninth European Research and Innovation Framework programme (2021-2027). In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is one of the key instruments of the European Union's efforts to steer and accelerate Europe's recovery, preparedness and resilience. In the context of a new European Research Area for research and innovation, it aims to strengthen Europe's knowledge base through frontier research, spur breakthrough innovation and support the development and demonstration of innovative solutions, and help restore industrial leadership and open strategic autonomy.

The first Horizon Europe Strategic Plan (2021-2024) which sets out key strategic orientations for the support of research and innovation, was adopted on 15 March 2021.

Activity under Horizon Europe is primarily organised under three 'pillars':

  • Pillar I - Excellent Science
  • Pillar II - Global Challenges and European Industrial Competitiveness
  • Pillar III - Innovative Europe

Marie Sklodowska-Curie actions (MSCA) are part of Pillar I - Excellent Science, which is designed to reinforce and extend the European Union's excellent science base. The MSCA is the EU's flagship programme to support scientific excellence and cooperation across countries, sectors and research fields. It aims to encourage more young people to pursue a career in research, promote Europe's attractiveness for leading global talent, retain its own researchers, and reintegrate those working elsewhere.

Doctoral Networks (DN) are one of five main actions offered through the MSCA. The networks support doctoral programmes, by partnerships of universities, research institutions and infrastructures, businesses including SMEs, and other socio-economic actors from different countries across Europe and beyond. These doctoral programmes will respond to well-identified needs in various research and innovation areas, expose the researchers to the academic and non-academic sectors, and offer research training, as well as transferable skills and competences relevant for innovation and long-term employability (eg entrepreneurship, commercialisation of results, Intellectual Property Rights, communication).

In addition to standard Doctoral Networks, incentives have been introduced to promote the following two specific types of doctorates:

  1. Industrial Doctorates train PhD candidates who wish to develop their skills outside academia, in particular in industry and business. Individual participants must be enrolled in a doctoral programme and jointly supervised by the academic and non-academic partners, both of which can be established in the same EU Member State or Horizon Europe Associated Country.
  2. Joint Doctorates provide a highly integrated form of international, inter-sectoral and interdisciplinary collaboration in doctoral training leading to a joint doctoral degree or multiple doctoral degrees recognised in at least two EU Member States or Horizon Europe Associated Countries awarded by the participating institutions. PhD candidates must be enrolled in a joint programme and be jointly supervised.

Proposals for doctoral networks can reflect existing or planned research partnerships among the participating organisations. All areas of research may be funded and Doctoral Networks can last for up to four years. Each beneficiary must recruit at least one doctoral candidate and can also organise secondments for them anywhere in the world. Funding to recruit additional researchers is proposed as an incentive for Industrial and Joint Doctorates.

The selection procedure for doctoral candidates must be open, transparent and merit-based, in line with the Code of Conduct for the Recruitment of Researchers. The vacancy notice (to be widely advertised internationally, including on the EURAXESS website) must include the gross salary (not including employer's social contributions) offered to the researcher. Candidates wishing to apply for PhD positions under Doctoral Networks should apply to funded Doctoral Network projects by consulting their open vacancies.

The following additional criteria apply:

Supervisory Board

Each MSCA Doctoral Network should have a clearly identified supervisory board co-ordinating network-wide training, research and in particular supervision activities in line with the Guidelines for MSCA supervision, while establishing continuous communication and exchange of best practice among the participating organisations to maximise the benefits of the partnership.

Training activities

MSCA Doctoral Networks should exploit complementarities between participating organisations and foster sharing of knowledge and networking activities for example through the organisation of workshops and conferences. Proposed training activities should respond to well identified needs in various R&I areas, with appropriate references to inter- and multidisciplinary fields and follow the EU Principles for Innovative Doctoral Training. They should be primarily focused on developing new scientific knowledge through original research on personalised projects.

Inter-sectoral secondments of researchers to other participating organisations, including in third countries, are encouraged when relevant, feasible and beneficial for the researchers and in line with the project objectives. This will increase the employability of the researchers outside academia.

Doctoral Networks should develop substantial training modules, including digital ones, addressing key transferable skills and competences common to all fields and fostering the culture of Open Science, innovation and entrepreneurship. In particular, Doctoral Networks should adequately prepare doctoral candidates for increased research collaboration and information-sharing made possible by new (digital) technologies (eg collaborative tools, opening access to publications and to research data, FAIR data management, public engagement and citizen science, etc).


Particular attention is paid to the quality of supervision and mentoring arrangements as well as career guidance. Joint supervision of the researchers is mandatory for Industrial and Joint Doctorates.

Career Development Plan

A Career Development Plan must be established jointly by the supervisor and each recruited doctoral candidate. In case of joint supervision, such a plan should be established involving all supervisors. In addition to research objectives, this plan comprises the researcher's training and career needs, including training on transferable skills, teaching, planning for publications and participation in conferences and events aiming at opening science and research to citizens. The plan, established at the beginning of the recruitment, should be revised (and updated where needed) within 18 months.

The duration of the action must not exceed 48 months from the starting date set out in the grant agreement (including the time needed to recruit and select the doctoral candidates). The duration of each fellowship (on the basis of full-time employment) is minimum 3 and maximum 36 months.

Additional Information

The MSCA encourages individuals to work in other countries and promotes collaboration and sharing of ideas between different industrial sectors and research disciplines. The programme aims to boost jobs, growth and investment by equipping researchers with new knowledge and skills and providing them with international as well as inter-sectoral exposure.

Particular attention is paid to gender balance and researchers are supported to establish themselves on a stable career path and to ensure that they can achieve an appropriate work/life balance. To further enhance dissemination and public engagement, beneficiaries of the MSCA are required to plan suitable public outreach activities.

Grants provided by Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions are available for all stages of a researcher's career. Calls released through the programme predominantly fall under one of the following five actions:

  • MSCA Doctoral Networks - Supporting programmes to train doctoral candidates in academic and non-academic organisations.
  • MSCA Postdoctoral Fellowships - Supporting career perspectives and excellence of postdoctoral researchers.
  • MSCA Staff Exchanges - Encouraging collaborations between organisations through staff exchanges.
  • MSCA COFUND - Co-funding of regional, national and international programmes.
  • MSCA and Citizens - Bringing research and researchers closer to the public at large.

In addition to these actions, the MSCA also provides 'MSCA Support' activities through calls for proposals to promote, support and complement the MSCA implementation. They cover:

  • The facilitation of cooperation between MSCA National Contact Points (NCPs).
  • The promotion of the MSCA at international level.
  • The support to European and national initiatives and programmes in support of researchers at risk.

Value Notes

The total budget for Marie Sklodowska-Curie actions is €1.23 billion in 2024. The budget for Doctoral Networks in 2024 is €608.6 million.

Not more than 40% of the EU contribution may be allocated to beneficiaries in the same country or to a single International European Research Organisation (IERO) or international organisation.

The EU provides support for each recruited researcher in the form of:

  • A living allowance.
  • A mobility allowance.
  • If applicable, family, long-term leave and special needs allowances.

In addition, funding is provided for

  • Research, training and networking activities.
  • Management and indirect costs.

The awards are open to all domains of research and innovation. Any type of organisation can apply for Horizon Europe funding as long as they have the operational and financial capacity to carry out the tasks they propose.

The following participants are eligible for funding:

  • Any legal entity established in a Member State or associated country, or created under Union law.
  • Any international European interest organisation.
  • Any legal entity established in a third country identified in the work programme.

Doctoral Networks are open to international consortia of universities, research institutions, businesses, SMEs and other non-academic organisations. They should include at least three independent legal entities, each established in a different EU Member State or Horizon Europe Associated Country and with at least one of them established in an EU Member State. If none of them is entitled to award a doctoral degree, a university or a consortium/grouping of academic/research institutions entitled to award a doctoral degree must be added to the project as an associated partner or an associated partner linked to a beneficiary.

In addition to the above, other eligible organisations from any country in the world can also join a consortium. All beneficiaries must recruit at least one doctoral candidate. They are required to host at their premises and supervise recruited researchers, or use associated partners linked to them to do so.

The duration of each fellowship supported through Doctoral Networks is between three and 36 months, except in the case of joint doctorates, where this maximum duration is 48 months. Researchers funded by Doctoral Networks:

  • Must not have a doctoral degree at the date of their recruitment.
  • Can be of any nationality.
  • Should be enrolled in a doctoral programme during the project.
  • Should spend at least 50% of their time outside academia, for Industrial Doctorates.
  • Should comply with the mobility rules: in general, they must not have resided or carried out their main activity (work, studies, etc) in the country of the recruiting organisation for more than 12 months in the 36 months immediately before their recruitment date.

Association to Horizon Europe is the closest form of cooperation with non-EU countries, which allows entities of associated countries to participate in programme actions on equal terms with entities of EU countries. It is offered not only to EU neighbouring countries, but also to any country in the world with a strong research and innovation capacity that share common values.

There are four categories of countries eligible for association with the programme:

  • Members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) which are members of the European Economic Area (EEA).
  • Acceding countries, candidate countries and potential candidates.
  • European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) countries.
  • Other third countries and territories that fulfil a set of criteria related to their economic, political and research and innovation systems.

For the purposes of the eligibility conditions, applicants established in Horizon 2020 Associated Countries or in other third countries negotiating association to Horizon Europe will be treated as entities established in an Associated Country, if the Horizon Europe association agreement with the third country concerned applies at the time of signature of the grant agreement.

A full list of countries associated to Horizon Europe is available at the European Commission website.

For UK Applicants: As of 1 January 2024, researchers and organisations in the UK are able to participate in Horizon Europe and Copernicus on par with their counterparts in EU Member States. The UK will also have access to services from the EU Space Surveillance and Tracking, a component of the EU Space Programme.

For Swiss applicants: On 18 March 2024, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and President of the Swiss Confederation Viola Amherd launched negotiations to implement the measures outlined in the Common Understanding endorsed by the Swiss Federal Council and the European Commission in November 2023. The Common Understanding foresees an association agreement covering at least the following programmes: Horizon Europe, Euratom Research & Training, International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, Digital Europe, Erasmus+, Creative Europe, EU4Health and Copernicus. The exact scope of association for each programme will be defined during the negotiations. The Common Understanding confirms both sides' ambition to conclude negotiations in 2024.

Switzerland remains a non-associated third country until negotiations conclude; however, the Swiss State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI) has committed to temporarily funding Swiss participants in around two-thirds of Horizon Europe, so applicants may submit proposals as normal. Full details are available on the Government's dedicated webpage.

While most collaborative projects in Horizon Europe are open to participants from non-associated third countries, the participation in mono-beneficiary instruments is by principle not possible as project submissions from non-associated third countries are not evaluated by the European Commission and therefore cannot be funded by SERI. For some parts of the programme, which are not open to non-associated third countries, SERI has initiated transitional measures.

Applicants are advised to consult the SERI website on transitional measures and direct funding to submit a funding request for a collaborative project, which provides a detailed outline of all the necessary information and steps for preparing and submitting a funding application.


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