Time for a quantum leap in EU research funding – an editorial from EUA President Rolf Tarrach
The European Union is currently defining its priorities for the next decade. The scientific community takes this opportunity to remind European policymakers that research and innovation propel both societal progress and sustainable economic growth.
Universities are the unique places for production and dissemination of new knowledge, which are fundamentally important for society. Universities have been benefitting from, and contributing to the EU research framework programmes (FPs) for decades.
The EU framework programme is one of the most powerful instruments the EU has developed to support excellent science and outstanding collaborative research across Europe and internationally. It has further structured and scaled up the scientific community’s efforts and capacity to tackle large-scale, ‘big picture’ challenges which will define the way we live tomorrow.
The FP has generated so much interest among stakeholders that one might say it has been too successful in attracting first class participation. At the same time, despite significant efforts, FP spending has not kept up with the demands of increasingly knowledge-driven societies.
The unprecedented low success rates in Horizon 2020 is a highly-debated subject in the sector and recognised as a problem by the European Commission. The scale of the issue becomes very apparent when looking at high-quality proposals (i.e. those that score above the threshold). Barely a quarter of these proposals obtain Horizon 2020 funding.
Can Europe really afford to accept that three-quarters of excellent research ideas are left unfunded? Such waste further jeopardises Europe’s economic recovery and capacity to be a global scientific leader and trend-setter. The FP and the entire European research funding system are therefore exposed to a real efficiency problem, which must be addressed by national governments and by EU institutions.
In a call for ‘Ambitious funding for excellent research in Europe post-2020’, universities across Europe, through their umbrella organisation, the European University Association (EUA), urge all actors to step up investment in the next EU framework programme for research (2021-2028).
More investment is needed to fund exceptionally good research and close the participation gap that poses a big challenge to the European research area (ERA).
Far from lowering quality, more investment through broad, open calls will strengthen excellence, boost scientists’ motivation and ensure support for more risk-oriented research. More investment will also mean more value for money for society, a more inclusive ERA, and ultimately a stronger economic growth.
Debates about the added value of investment in research at the European level should be a thing of the past. But the bone of contention clearly lies with the question of where this additional money should come from.
The time has come to go beyond a minor reshuffle – what Europe’s future needs is a strategic reallocation of common resources. This calls for the alignment of the different research-related funds that exist in the EU’s financial portfolio; and a genuine discussion on the contribution of European structural and investments funds to research and innovation.
Universities across Europe are familiar with these programmes and argue for more than increased ‘compatibility’ among them. To achieve the above-mentioned objectives and deliver efficiently, as President of the European University Association, I advocate for a quantitative and qualitative effort – a quantum leap, I might say – in favour of a more ambitious European research funding. Europe can no longer afford ‘business as usual’ scenarios.
All superior quality, top-rated proposals from the framework programme must be funded. This could be achieved, for example, through the ring-fencing of resources within the structural funds, or better by shifting the available resources towards the future research framework programme. Let me be very clear: there should be neither compromise, nor underfunding of sterling research if Europe is to succeed.
About the author
Rolf Tarrach is President of the European University Association
This editorial was first published on the Parliament Magazine website on 30 May 2017.
- More background information on research funding at European level
Join the EUA-CDE Annual Meeting “Digitalisation: A game changer for doctoral education?” via Facebook live today at 12.30
The session will focus on how the doctoral schools, which are uniquely positioned to respond to the demand for new skills in a digital society, can shape the professional capacities of highly skilled doctorate holders. The speakers will reflect on the needs of a fast-changing society and highlight the role doctoral education plays in universities by helping society to address the challenges of digitalisation.
Access the EUA Facebook page to listen to Fabienne Gautier, Head of Unit ‘Open Science and ERA Policy’ in DG Research & Innovation of the European Commission and Oleg Shvaikovsky, Board Member and Partner of NORTAL, a private company based in Estonia that works on digital processes for governments, businesses and international healthcare organisations. The panel will be chaired by Lesley Wilson, EUA Secretary General. A replay of the session will remain available on the EUA Facebook page.
This panel session is part of the 10th annual meeting of the EUA Council for Doctoral Education (EUA-CDE) on “Digitalisation: A game changer for doctoral education?” which takes place on 15 and 16 June 2017 in Tallinn, Estonia. The event is hosted by Tallinn University and is attended by 200 participants or so from 31 countries.
EUA contributes to a common understanding of quality assurance in Africa
During the training course, key African QA stakeholders gathered together to discuss how they can cooperate and support the harmonisation of QA in the African higher education context. During the event, the participants received an update on the first draft of the African Standards and Guidelines in Quality Assurance (ASG-QA) and discussed how the proposed document feeds into the Pan-African Quality Assurance and Accreditation Framework (PAQAF). EUA contributed to the event by sharing its experience and lessons learnt in developing regional collaboration on QA in the context of the European Higher Education Area.
Participants agreed that QA in higher education is a policy priority in Africa, and underlined the importance of such events for sharing practices and facilitating cooperation among institutional, national, and regional players, which further strengthens relationships across Africa in the higher education sector. The outcomes of the training also reflect the European Commission’s latest ‘Joint Communication to the European Parliament and the Council for a Renewed Impetus of the Africa-EU Partnership’, where the harmonisation of higher education through improved quality assurance is identified as one of the key approaches to achieve secure, sustainable and inclusive economic development in Africa that will benefit both continents.
The training course was followed by a celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Association of African Universities. EUA used the opportunity to congratulate its sister association on this special occasion.
The USTREAM project provides you with new opportunities to shape the European agenda on efficient university management
At the first peer learning seminar, organised jointly with Universities UK on 1-2 June in London, discussions focused on policy frameworks for efficiency and effectiveness. More than 20 university leaders from 15 countries across Europe exchanged good practices in the field of governance, strategy and reporting, and also examined various opportunities that exist in terms of joint procurement, shared services, data and learning analytics, space utilisation and other areas. The seminar was chaired by Professor Sir Ian Diamond, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Aberdeen and Chair of the UUK Efficiency Task Group, and Professor Nick Petford, Vice-Chancellor, University of Northampton and Chair, Procurement UK, enhancing synergies with the work carried out in the UK higher education context. Presentations given by the UK experts, including institutional examples, are available on the EUA website.
The USTREAM team also conducted a site visit to Austria with the support of its collective member Universities Austria. The objective of the site visit was to explore the national framework and collect evidence on the institutional experience with the issues of efficiency and effectiveness. Two more site visits are planned to Poland and Flanders (Belgium) this summer.
Register now! The next peer learning seminar focused on national and institutional approaches to efficiency will take place on 4-5 December 2017 in Dublin, in cooperation with the Irish Universities Association. Interested university leaders and policy makers are invited to apply to the call for participation before 18 September 2017.
Coming soon! A call for expression of interest will be published shortly for stakeholders interested in organising a national policy dialogue event on the topic of efficiency and effectiveness in higher education. Three events will be organised next year with the aim to initiate a system-wide dialogue on facilitators of efficiency and related reforms. Further details on the USTREAM national policy dialogues will be published on the USTREAM webpage by the end of June.
EUA webinar on Brexit: what will it mean for universities
Vivienne Stern, Director of Universities UK International (UUKi) shared the concerns of the British university sector with participants and emphasised the importance of working together. “UK universities are strongly committed to continue cooperation with their partners across Europe”. She also shared evidence of the close ties between the UK and the rest of the EU and why this cooperation was important.
Thomas Jorgensen, Senior Policy Coordinator at EUA, explained the different steps of the negotiation process between the EU and the UUK and how these could become relevant for university cooperation across Europe. “We do not know much yet about the outcomes, but instead of speculating we should focus on what we can do as a sector: continue to cooperate with universities from the UK and politically argue for association of the UK to EU research and education funding programmes.”
The negotiations between the EU and the UK will start by the end of June. EUA and UUK will continue to work together on this topic and provide relevant information to their members.
With its 185 participants, this has been a very successful webinar and EUA will continue to develop this service further to its members.