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Building the Knowledge Economy in Europe: New Constellations in European Research and Higher Education Governance

EOK coverWhy do knowledge policies play an increasing role on the European political and policy agenda? What are the synergies and tensions between European research and higher education policies? What have been the successes and challenges in establishing the European Research Council and the European Institute of Innovation and Technology? What role do stakeholders play in the Bologna process? And how strong are the soft modes of EU governance?


These and other questions are addressed in the recently published book ‘Building the Knowledge Economy in Europe: New Constellations in European Research and Higher Education Governance’ edited by Meng-Hsuan Chou and Åse Gornitzka. Meng-Hsuan Chou tells us about the rationales for and the key messages of their book.


Q1: How did the idea for this book on the knowledge economy in Europe emerge?

This edited volume gathers contributions from our ‘Europe of Knowledge’ section at the European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR) general conference in Reykjavik in 2011. This was the first time that we – researchers working on knowledge policies (higher education and research) – had our own section at the ECPR. While we have successfully reconvened a ‘Europe of Knowledge’ section at every ECPR general conference since, we wanted to mark the occasion with a publication to promote the study of knowledge policies among EU scholars. At the time, Elgar came out with a new series on ‘New Horizons in European Politics’ and we thought this was a perfect opportunity to introduce the topics to an EU audience. The reason for this is because we believe these two policy sectors have much to offer to those interested in regional integration dynamics. Moreover, I thought it would be interesting to spotlight the policies that are quite important to academics, as European knowledge policies affect how we teach and carry out basic research.


Q2: The book analyses two central pillars of the ‘Europe of Knowledge’, research and higher education policies. Have the processes of European integration in these two policy areas developed similarly or differently?

European cooperation in the fields of research and higher education has followed different pathways. We describe these developments in Chapter 1, which is available here for readers, but they can be summarised in a nutshell as follow: knowledge cooperation started very early in the integration process. Research cooperation has, however, evolved much further due to the overall national sensitivity surrounding higher education issues. A key development for research policy cooperation occurred in the 1980s: the institutionalisation of the Framework Programmes, which is now synonymous with EU research policy even though this area of cooperation is more than just about funding.

Higher education entered the political and policy spotlight with the signing of the Sorbonne Declaration and the launch of the Bologna Process at the end of the 1990s. Cooperation in this area has been very practical, e.g. establishing common degree structures and transferring course units, but of course it is also political. It is important to note that Bologna, with 47 members, is not an EU process, even though the Commission is heavily involved. The knowledge policy portfolio is spread across several of the Commission’s Directorates-General (DGs) and this contributes to the complexity of the governance process. I believe it is this very complexity that makes studying European knowledge policy cooperation so interesting.


Q3: One of the chapters looks at the establishment of European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), which has to bring together research, higher education and innovation. What does the specific case of EIT tell us about the challenges for interaction among the different pillars of Europe of Knowledge?

The EIT chapter, by Åse Gornitzka and Julia Metz, tells us that creating an institution under ‘inhospitable conditions’ is possible, but it requires very powerful promoters at the very highest political level – in this case, Commission President Barroso. These ‘inhospitable conditions’ reflect precisely the governance division between research, higher education and innovation – the respective political and policy actors defended their sectoral turfs and perceived the establishment of the EIT as a ‘threat’. Barroso was able to successfully secure its establishment, but, in the end, he also did not have the EIT he initially wanted (i.e. the MIT model, university with top researchers). After the EIT was created, another set of actors came on-board and took over its daily operations. What the EIT case reveals is that the different pillars of the Europe of Knowledge may require heavy political steering to interact if new institutions were to deliver the intended outcomes.


Q4: European integration in research and higher education policies is characterised by the soft modes of governance such as the Open Method of Coordination (OMC). What are their advantages and limitations?

The OMC injects flexibility into compliance and allows different interpretation of agreed standards to co-exist. While the OMC may succeed in bringing people to the ‘mutual exchange’ table with some progress towards collective objectives, it does not generally latch on to another process to ensure continuity in some areas where progress is indeed being made. Therefore, in Åse Gornitzka’s chapter on the OMC, she argues for approaching the OMC from another perspective: what it tells us about how political and administrative institutions interact with this process and their respective experiences. She finds that, in the case of Norway, the OMC has become a ‘transmission belt’ for generating policy information as well as policy learning and ‘teaching’.


Q5: Some chapters of your book look at national responses to European integration processes in knowledge policy areas. Do you see any major national differences, for example, between Scandinavian countries and Spain?

Yes, there are major differences between countries and not just between the so-called Northern countries and those in the South. For instance, in Hanne Foss Hansen’s chapter – ‘“Quality agencies”: the development of regulating and mediating organizations in Scandinavian higher education’ – she demonstrates that, even though the Nordic countries share a tradition in how they perceive the role of higher education in society, they ultimately adopted different systems for quality assurance. In my chapter with José Real-Dato, which looks at how Norwegian and Spanish institutions approached the EU Commission-promoted Human Resource Strategy, we show that diverse national strategies and translation capacity explain variation in the speed and the extent of uptake. The domestic arena is significant in understanding how European integration in the knowledge sectors evolves, or does not.


Q6: You have worked and studied in the United States, Europe and Asia. Are knowledge policies in Europe considerably different from those in other world regions?

Yes, there are differences in terms of the emphases within debates about how knowledge should and could be used. For instance, in the US, I hear more about how knowledge could be used to advance the society’s wellbeing. The question being raised includes ‘How can we ensure equal access to high-quality education?’; this debate resonates with the phenomenon of the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) sweeping the world. In Europe, solving the ‘grand challenges’ and the role of science in policymaking are central themes. In Asia, the focus is more on how knowledge could be used to increase the national overall economic competitiveness and to secure a lead in the decades to come. But, of course, these differences are very subtle and nearly all countries in the world are concerned about all these aspects. What I find surprising is that there are less talks about the role of higher education in ‘citizen making’. Indeed, it appears as if overnight we all became global citizens, moving seamlessly around the world, which is simply not true.


Q7: What are the main messages for scholars and practitioners of knowledge policies emerging from your book?

Since European integration takes place under different conditions and parameters, its evolution continues to attract considerable interest. This is especially the case for emerging policy areas subject to integration because these developments shed new light on the direction, dynamics and, an increasingly debated aspect, the very sustainability of Europe’s political order. Knowledge policies are one of these emerging areas. For scholars, I think what is especially interesting is that European knowledge policy governance occurs through supranational, intergovernmental and transnational processes in which the EU has different roles: as a key actor, an observer or merely one of several. These multiple avenues of integration provide a unique case to explore the different facets of integration dynamics – especially for refining concepts such as ‘differentiated integration’.

For practitioners, I believe that our book provides theoretically grounded explanations as to why knowledge policies are extremely difficult to regulate. The chapters in this volume go beyond the conventional argument that ‘knowledge policies are too sensitive for the EU to regulate’. Indeed, the cases demonstrate that other factors matter; for instance, from sectoral competition in the realm of knowledge policies, and a Commission President’s vision to European higher education institutions’ diverse motivations to participate in OMC-like processes. There are general lessons to be extracted, not least for European integration, but also for other regional processes.


Q8: What would be promising research lines for future studies on regional and global governance of knowledge?  

I think the most promising research approach would be comparative. As Europeanists, we tend to study EU as n = 1 and are entirely focussed on explaining its developments and nuances. But this perspective actually harms European integration studies because we overlook the interesting developments occurring elsewhere. Pauline Ravinet and I are currently discussing the global phenomenon we call ‘higher education regionalism’ and deciphering ways in which we can begin to identify, understand, and explain the emergence of ad hoc regional higher education initiatives throughout the last few decades (and seemingly more in the making!).

Another promising approach would be interdisciplinary collaborative work. There are many researchers working on issues concerning knowledge governance, but we are scattered across many disciplines. I think this is where UACES’s (Academic Association for Contemporary European Studies) collaborative research network on the European Research Area is so useful – it really facilitates sharing ideas and findings across disciplinary boundaries.

In terms of specific topics, I think it would be fascinating to compare how different world regions address or attempt to regulate the digital revolution sweeping higher education and research. What questions are being asked? What ideas are given prominence? Is there any policy learning involved? Have we moved beyond competition? Indeed, have the world’s geographical regions been reconfigured into new constellations of alliances? If so, who governs?


Dr Meng-Hsuan Chou is Nanyang Assistant Professor in Public Policy and Global Affairs at NTU, Singapore and an Associate Fellow at EU Centre Singapore. She is the Academic Coordinator for the UACES Collaborative Research Network on the European Research Area. Hsuan chaired the Europe of Knowledge section at the 2011 and 2013 ECPR conferences and will be co-chairing the 2014 section. Her articles have appeared in the Journal of European Public Policy, Journal of Contemporary European Research and PS: Political Science & Politics. She is currently researching how governments in Asia, Europe and North America compete for foreign talent in a globalised era and how scholarly networks are organised across time.

This entry was simultaneously posted on Ideas of Europe blog platform.

Approaching Europe: Israel and the Knowledge-Based Society

Yoav Freidman, Hannah Moscovitz and Hila Zahavi 


The conference “Approaching Europe: Israel and the Knowledge-Based Society”, jointly organized by Ben-Gurion University of the Negev’s Bologna Training Center (BTC) and the Israel office of the Konrad-Adenauer Foundation, sought to examine the European experience in higher education policy and reform, focusing on the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) and Bologna Process in particular, in order to shed light on this global process and explore the implications for the Israeli higher education system. Against the backdrop of the diverging trends in Israel; the lack of a clear governmental policy on the one hand and the strengthening of ‘bottom up’ initiatives on the other, the conference aimed to draw lessons from the European experience and to strengthen the understanding of current patterns in order to better grasp the policy implications for Israel. To this end, this year’s conference brought together faculty, students, practitioners and governmental representatives for a joint discussion on these matters.


BTC May 2014

From left to right: Inbal Avnon (NUIS), Fernando Galan Palomares (ESU), Anne Boddington (Brighton University), and Meng-Hsuan Chou (NTU)


While Europe has developed policies towards its higher education systems based on the vision of academic institutions as engines of growth for both economic and social development, Israel has yet to bring higher education policy to the forefront of the public debate. This is clear with regards to the development of academia-industry links. Although Israel is considered as a global power house for high-tech industries, the governmental level has yet to develop a strategy for binding the industry to academia for mutual benefit. While activities and programs promoting ties between industry and higher education in Israel do exist, they remain mainly local and sporadic initiatives within institutions themselves.

There is great potential for Israel to learn from the European experience in the area of higher education. However, in the absence of an articulated national policy towards the European Higher Education Area and the Bologna Process, the Israeli higher education system risks floundering as Israel’s society and economy distance themselves from global trends. Similarly to the case of the industry-academia collaboration in Israel, the academic cooperation with the European Higher Education Area is primarily driven by “bottom up” initiatives. There is an increasing interest and desire by Israeli higher education institutions to strengthen ties with Europe in the academic sphere. That being said, such initiatives have yet to be led by the National Council for Higher Education or other governmental bodies.


A missing perspective: Students are stakeholders

At the forefront of the conference discussion was the increasing importance of including student bodies as equal stakeholders in the various processes shaping higher education policies. Representatives from both the European Students’ Union (ESU) and the National Union of Israeli Students (NUIS) presented their perspective on the issues involved in the development of ‘knowledge-based’ societies. The growing European- level student platform was described by the ESU representative. Through its wide-ranging activities, the ESU underlines the importance of considering students as full members of the university community as opposed to “consumers”. As highlighted by the NUIS representative, the Israeli system lags behind in encouraging student involvement in policy issues related to higher education. Consequently, the student perspective is not typically represented in discussions on higher education policy and reform. Including the student view set the stage for a continued discussion on the importance of student representation and involvement in higher education governance in the country.

The student representatives were asked to assess the distinction between the concept of knowledge-based economy and that of knowledge-based society. Are these terms inter-changeable? Are there contradictions between them? Both the European and Israeli representatives discussed the fact that the idea of a knowledge-based society incorporates the economy but not necessarily vice-versa. Using the term knowledge-based society allows a wider perspective of the university’s missions.  The student representatives also related to the issue of employability as a major concern. However, they noted that while economic factors are important, they should not come at the expense of the university’s social mission. The fact that higher education should also be concerned with preparing students for active citizenship, personal development as well as maintaining a broad and advanced knowledge base was highlighted.


Beyond ‘bottom-up’ initiatives: developing an Israeli national strategy

Another important message highlighted by several speakers, was the fact that Israel has yet to develop a clear position vis a vis the Bologna Process and other global trends in the field of higher education. The importance of promoting ties and cooperation with Europe through various channels like Tempus and Erasmus Mundus projects was emphasized. While Israel is not a signatory member of the Bologna Process, there is a growing interest in participation in European funded projects as well as strengthening ties with European institutions in the academic sphere.  In particular, Israeli institutions are increasingly interested in understanding the Bologna Process and its various features in order to potentially implement them within their programs. For instance, in order to promote student mobility between European and Israeli institutions, it is crucial for Israeli universities and colleges to understand the ECTS (European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System) and to have a compatible system in place for credit transfers from Europe to Israel and vice-versa. The conference lectures strengthened the fact that these initiatives, while growing, have until now remained at the institutional level.

The comparative view between the European and Israeli discourses on the role of academia in society shed light on the fact that Israel is lacking a genuine debate over the future missions of academia. The discussion which evolved during the conference highlighted the fact that an articulated strategy for an “Israel of Knowledge” is crucial. The Bologna Training Center hopes that this discussion, relating to the overall quality, modernization and internationalization of higher education systems, will continue to develop through future events and activities in Israel.


Yoav Freidman, Hannah Moscovitz and Hila Zahavi are PhD students in the Department of Politics and Government in Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. They also work as project coordinators at the Bologna Training Center.

This entry was simultaneously published on Europe of Knowledge blog.

The Dynamism of the European Research Geography

Nicola Francesco Dotti, Bas Van Heur and André Spithoven


Looking for the geographical dimensions of Framework Programmes
The EU Framework Programme (FP) is by far the most important European intervention for research and technological development (RTD). While this policy has been repeatedly reformed, the FP has also shaped European research since 1984. The largest part of the FP aims to promote transnational RTD projects granting funds for ‘excellent research’ (the so-called ‘FP-Cooperation’, which covers about two thirds of the whole budget), irrespective of their geographical localisation. However, as our study on the geographical distribution of FP participation shows, ‘excellent’ research is also unevenly spread across Europe.

Why is important to study the geographical distribution of FP participations? There are two major reasons. First, in the political debate there are claims for an equal distribution of funds across member states, implicitly claiming for a correction on the criteria of ‘scientific excellence’ that is considered to be biased in favour of most advanced countries. Second, in the scientific literature, research has been largely recognised as a fundamental input for ‘regional systems of innovation’ (RSI) (Cooke et al., 1997; Iammarino, 2005; Moulaert and Sekia, 2003). Since 1990s, RSIs were identified as good practices for a transition through a ‘knowledge-based economy’ based on synergies among universities, firms and governments (Etzkowitz and Leydesdorff, 2000). In this perspective, the understanding of where ‘excellent research’ is carried out contributes to identify the ‘research competitiveness’ of European territories, and then how this support regional innovation capacities.

Our research aims to identify what characterises the spatial distribution of FP participations, despite a policy rationale driven only by ‘scientific excellence’ regardless geographical dimensions. Our analysis reveals the existence of two driving forces:
1. Research is cumulative: once a district was able to carry out ‘excellent research’, they are more likely to keep this dominant position. Research is a process based on cumulative experiences, and it takes time for newcomers to reach the level of already advanced experts in a certain specialised field.
2. The FP has a competitive rationale based on open calls for funding. This implies that a ‘leading position’ cannot be taken for granted and newcomers have space to increase their rate of FP participation.

These two forces are combined and they interact to shape European research geography. We define the resulting geography as an ‘open polycentrism’ where there are multiple centres with high rates of FP participation, but these rates change and in turn determine the rise of newcomers and the decline of those unable to keep their ‘competitiveness’. The concept of ‘open polycentrism’ is articulated in three different features:
a. There are ‘centres’ where most of the ‘research’ is carried out meaning that ‘excellent’ RTD projects tend to be highly concentrated in few areas;
b. There are ‘multiple’ centres, and not a single core taking most of the FP projects;
c. The competitive nature of FP calls for projects makes possible significant changes in the rate of FP participation over time.


Beyond network analysis, towards a geographical perspective
Where is ‘excellent research’ carried out? If FP projects are selected only for their ‘scientific excellence’, the distribution of FP participants can be assumed as indicator for where excellent research is. For this purpose, the EU Commission’s database named CORDIS was largely used by scholars to analyse participations providing a large literature on how scientific communities are structured around Europe (Autant-Bernard and Chalaye, 2013; Autant-Bernard et al., 2007; Barber and Scherngell, 2013; Barber et al., 2011; Heller-Schuh et al., 2011; Wanzenböck et al., forthcoming). These analyses were very useful to understand partnerships’ networks that show the progressive integration of national research communities towards a ‘European Research Area’, however, little is said on the geographical dimensions and long-term evolutions due to significant limitations in available data.

An innovative database, developed in the context of the ‘Geography of Research in Europe And Territorial Policy Innovations’ GREATPI project, allows for a very detailed analysis. First, each FP participant has been associated with its geographical district (NUTS3), providing a better focus in comparison to previous analyses that considered just the regional level (NUTS2). Second, a long process of data cleaning allows long-term analysis during last decade from FP5 (1999-2002) to FP7 (2007-2010 ). For the purpose of our analysis, we have selected three FP-Cooperation’s themes: biotechnologies (KBBE), energy and environment. These FP themes represent about one fifth of the whole FP-Cooperation and were selected because they represent some of the societal challenges and are fully comparable across FP periods, while other themes changed.


Something more than just a core-periphery system
In the field of geography, the ‘core-periphery’ theory is well known: high-quality functions (in this case the ‘excellent research activities’) tend to be concentrated in the core leaving the periphery with only secondary functions. This concentration was already identified by several authors also in the case of FP participation (Autant-Bernard and Chalaye, 2013; Barber and Scherngell, 2013; Barber et al., 2011; Heller-Schuh et al., 2011), however, what was missing was the dynamic perspective of how this ‘core’ evolves. To test the hypothesis of an ‘open polycentrism’, we extracted the top-5 percentile of districts in terms of FP participations from FP5 (1999-2002) to FP7 (2007-2010) in the three selected themes (Biotechnologies – KBBE, Environment and Energy), and plotted them as shown in Figure 1. By this simple comparison, it is possible to understand how the performance of top-performing districts changed over time. Before entering into the discussion, a general observation is necessary: the sample includes the entire EU as well as Associated Countries, such as Turkey, Switzerland and Norway among others, that participate in the FP with the same funding and rights as EU member states. Furthermore, the selected period corresponds with the full integration of new member states, which were already fully involved in the FP policy since 1999.

In Figure 1, there are three major findings. First, there are several observations with always high and stable rates of FP participation (the ‘core’). This is the effect of the cumulative nature of research because those that were the most advanced research centres are more likely to keep on being on the frontier of research, also thanks to FP providing extra funding to further advance. Second, in this core there are multiple districts with comparable performance and just one (Paris, on the top-right), which is decreasing its leading position. Third, looking to districts with lower performances there is a significant dynamism with many observations far from the diagonal, implying that their performances significantly changed from FP5 to FP7. This is the case for both districts able to increase their rate of FP participations and for those reducing it; nonetheless, it should be noticed that observations joining the ‘core’ does not come from zero participation, and this further confirms the cumulative nature of research. On the other hand, this dynamism is determined by the open competition of FP calls.



Figure 1. Evolution of FP participation in top-performing districts


How is this possible? There are two main reasons to explain this ‘open polycentrism’. First, Europe is a large space with several ‘centres’ and the open calls for FP funding allow all the research centres to participate and compete for those funds. Second, the FP is just one of the RTD policies active in Europe: member states have their own national and regional policies to support their own research centres. This support implicitly affects the rate of FP participations because member states can develop internally their own research centres, and then improve their ‘European competitiveness’ in FP calls.


Policy Implications
What are the lessons that can be derived from this exercise for the EU Horizon 2020 programme?

First, the FP is really a competitive mechanism. The criteria for ‘scientific excellence’ is really open and offer opportunity for newcomers to increase their rate of participation without any guarantees for those who won in previous calls. The claim that funds go always to the same research centre is, in fact, false or, more precisely, there is space for newcomers to increase their rate of FP participation. It should be highlighted, moreover, that the FP-Cooperation programme does not aim to increase the research capacities, but only to fund ‘excellent research’. While the EU has had only minor programmes to support research capacities, member states are the main actors responsible for these investments.

Second, ‘excellent research’ is not for everybody, but this does not mean that second-level districts should give up their RTD investments. If the FP participation is an indicator of research competitiveness, this shows space for those investing in RTD to reach the level of ‘European excellence’, although it should be recognised that FP is not the only programme funding ‘excellence’ and other sources are available. This should be seen as good opportunities because it provides a return for districts investing in their research competitiveness that can be measured in terms of FP participation.

Third, an open issue exist regarding synergies with Structural Funds (SF), which are often used to promote RTD investments. The EU regional policy aims to support lagging regions promoting territorial convergence; however, not any region benefiting from SF is in the FP (an open polycentric) core. While this can be seen as a contradiction, it comes with no surprise. If the FP aims to support ‘scientific excellence’ at the European level, lagging regions are expected to have a long-way before joining the frontier of research; otherwise, they would not be ‘lagging’ and would appear as part of the core at certain periods of time. Bearing in mind that the FP is only about 7.5% of the public funds spent in Europe for RTD, there are other possibilities to increase research competitiveness of regions/districts, but these would rely on the member states.


This analysis identified the forces explaining the spatial distribution of FP participations. Findings show how competitive and dynamic the European research geography is in terms of FP participations; however, this mechanism is open for those already having RTD capacities that are able to reach the top performing core starting from mid-level performances. Indeed, there is an open issue regarding territories without ‘excellent’ RTD actors. The availability of a new and geographically detailed database will allow for further and more specific analysis of the European research geography.
Dr. Nicola Francesco Dotti is post-doc in economic geography at Cosmopolis, centre for urban research of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB). Prof.Dr.Bas Van Heur is assistant professor in social geography and director of Cosmopolis (VUB). Dr. André Spithoven works at the Belgian Science Policy Office (BELSPO) and the Universiteit Gent (UGent).
This blog post is based on an ongoing research which will be presented at the ERA CRN workshop ‘Governance of the Europe of Knowledge’ Cambridge University, 10-11 April 2014.


This entry was initially posted on Europe of Knowledge blog.


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Where is Horizon 2020 leading us?

Mitchell Young

As the year 2014 gets underway, the Europe of Knowledge also begins a new phase with the launch of Horizon 2020. Now that the budget wrangling is over and the calls for the first grant proposals have been published, we will finally begin to discover what Horizon 2020 does to reshape the research environment in Europe. While we do have clear statements (Commission 2011c) about its bringing together the instruments for research and innovation funding under a single umbrella which covers the complete innovation cycle; simplifying and unifying many of the administrative rules and procedures; and seeking to promote the competiveness of the EU with a strong linguistic flavoring from the Innovation Union discourse; still, there are far more questions than answers.

From Framework Programmes to Horizon 2020: ‘A Break from the Past’?

The first question has to be whether it is deserving of its unique name?  Rather than continue with the sequential numbering of framework programmes that has been in place for the past 30 years and which provided continuity for what became a deeply institutionalized EU policy instrument (see Banchoff 2002 for an interesting discussion of how the power of this instrument may have harmed other efforts at common research policy and initiatives), the eighth framework program provides in the commission’s words, ‘a break from the past.’ But what kind of a break does it mark? And why do we need this break at all when the framework programme is generally considered to be one of the ongoing successes of European policy? Banchoff’s argument might suggest that the framework programs as an institution had grown too powerful, but weakening the institution does not appear to be the aim of changing the name, rather, the hope is to strengthen it further. 

Horizon 2020 includes more tools and covers a broader set of policy problems than before, but there is still significant continuity. In a recent conference paper (Young 2013), I argued that the fundamental change is one of policy narrative. I compared the policy documents, proposals, impact assessments and green paper process to see how different types of policy narrative were used in Horizon 2020 in comparison with the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7). My conclusion was that Horizon 2020 marks a shift toward a New Public Management (NPM) narrative for structuring research policy. NPM involves making public administration more business-like by adopting private sector management practices within a competitive market context with the aims of increasing performance, efficiency and outputs (Hood 1991, Barlezay 2001, Power 2005, Pollitt and Bouckaert 2011). While there is a complex layering process at work in Horizon 2020 which still includes elements of other public administration narratives, the balance has moved towards quantitatively measureable outputs and the efficiency of excellence rather than inputs or processes as a means of judging success and steering performance. 

In a very basic sense, we can say that FP7 was developed in the optimistic climate of post-millennial globalization, whereas Horizon 2020 was developed in the climate of economic crisis. This shift is visible in looking at how the Commission frames the challenges which the EU faces in its Impact Analyses for FP7 and Horizon 2020. In 2005, the Commission produced this broad statement to contextualize FP7: ‘Our time is one of high uncertainty. It is rich with threats and challenges as well as opportunities. The bipolar world  has come  and  gone and with increasing globalization new trends are emerging: the supremacy of the United States, the rise or awakening of Asian giants, but also the persistence of underdevelopment and the growing inequalities between – and within – the nations of the world’ (Commission 2005, annex p.1). The document goes on to say that Europe is not adapting well to these external challenges. By 2011, the tenor has changed, and the Commission writes: ‘The key challenge is to stabilise the financial and economic system in the short term while also taking measures to create the economic opportunities of tomorrow’ (Commission 2011, p.2). The financial crisis steers policy in a more inward-looking direction and narrows the language of opportunities to focus on economically oriented ones.

More spending on research and innovation?

The headline objective at the time of FP7 was increasing spending on research and innovation, the so called Barcelona target of spending three percent of GDP in this area, which became one of the five key indicators for the Lisbon Strategy. Relatively little progress has been made towards this target, though it continues to feature as one of headline targets of the Europe 2020 strategy. We might therefore anticipate that Horizon 2020 would attempt to influence and promote national spending. Instead, direct references to input based spending targets are downplayed in Horizon 2020. Austerity arguments coupled with ideas of increasing efficiency in order to compensate for fewer funds predominate. The lack of input-side increases in the member states is also playing out on the European level, where stabilization is considered success. 

While Horizon 2020 is generously funded, and does represent a significant increase in overall funding in comparison with FP7, that increase is still not enough to stabilize the funding level from the final year of FP7. The first two years of Horizon 2020 together have 15 billion, whereas FP7 had nearly 11 billion in 2013 not including the funding for the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme (CIP) which is now part of Horizon 2020. It is worth asking why a more aggressive approach was not taken? What does this tell us about the politicians trust in the rhetoric of research and innovation being the drivers of competitiveness? In other words, why was austerity chosen as the preferred solution to the Euro crisis?

Regardless of whether there are overall increases or not, European research policy provides only a very small amount (about 10%) (Commission 2011a) of the overall funding for research and innovation compared to national sources, but its policy objectives are targeted at affecting the entire European research environment. For that it needs leverage, which can take many forms, including co-ordination, co-option, being given control over parts of what was previously a national competence, and also modeling so-called ‘good practices’ and policy ideas. Some of the ways this is happening are described below. At the same time, the level of competition for European funds is increasing. If the commission’s expectations are correct, success rates in Horizon 2020 will drop to 15% from the 22% success rate of FP7. Competition is seen as a way to increase quality, but is there a point at which too much of it becomes counterproductive?

EU research policy – a blueprint for member states?

In his recent blog post on research policy in Austria, Thomas König describes how Horizon 2020 was used by the Austrian government in legitimizing changes in their research policy, particularly in bringing it under the purview of the ministry for economic affairs. Austria is not the first country to do this; it follows the UK and Spain, and likely others will follow in placing research under the jurisdiction of economic policy rather than with higher education. But the consequences of these structural changes may create dramatic changes in terms of how research is conducted. While the EU has pragmatic reasons for depicting research as an economic activity as this is what gives it grounds to act in what otherwise might be a national activity, its strong propagation of the economic justification for research can now be seen at work in national policymaking as a blueprint for policy and governmental design. Of course there are also many other actors which promote this position, but as we can see, the EU plays an important role.

Another major area of leverage is the growing trend for countries to piggyback on the European Research Council (ERC) evaluation process. There are now reportedly 12 member states that provide national funding to researchers who reach the second stage of the ERC funding process but whose projects are not retained for funding (European Research Council 2013). This encourages researchers to apply for ERC funding, which is time consuming and has a low success rate. It also demonstrates national confidence in the European system of evaluation and maybe a willingness to relinquish more control over research to the EU. There is a clear desire in seeing more such initiatives; one of the targets for Horizon 2020 named in the Commission’s proposal is ‘Number of institutional policy and national/regional policy measures inspired by ERC funding’ (Commission 2011c, p.96). Further details are not provided, but this is something to watch.

Growing divide in European research

The public consultation for Horizon 2020 which was conducted in 2011 (Commission 2011a), shows broad support for the EU’s initiatives and ideas on how to update the Seventh Framework Programme. While there are some critical contributions, for the most part, there are supportive statements from those nearly 2000 governments, universities, organizations, corporations and individuals that participated. However, we should note that levels of participation in the green paper process followed closely both the levels of national investment in research and development as well as scores on the 2013 Innovation Union Scoreboard. This is indicative of the growing divide in European research: the leading research countries are separating quickly from the rest, introducing the danger of a European geography where serious research only happens in select pockets.

The EU is quite aware of this, and the so called ‘widening debate’ for research is on the agenda. How to best address this issue is less clear. In the earlier framework projects, having partners in the EU-10 countries (new member states which join in 2004) was legislated into the program, and brought about quite a bit of well-deserved criticism. In Horizon 2020 excellence-only evaluation became nearly taken-for-granted and was employed in debates as something of a code word for not engaging distributive justice issues. The commission tried to move these issues, which it referred to as the ‘stairway to excellence’, off to the cohesion and structural funds and out of Horizon 2020.

In the end, the widening debate does have a small presence in Horizon 2020 with a section devoted to reducing the innovation divide in Europe (e.g. Teaming initiative). It is not, however, incorporated into any of the other instruments; is a standalone area which will be used to fund partnerships between research leaders and participants in countries which fall below 70% of EU average on the “Composite indicator of Research Excellence” (Horizon 2020 Work Program 2014-2015). This is a new measure that is based on four variables which purports to define research excellence. This quantification of excellence is yet another sign of the encroachment of a New Public Management narrative.

Chasing horizons

What this means for researchers remains to be seen. Pointing out the influence of neo-liberal thinking in Horizon 2020 allows us to consider how it is likely to steer outcomes. In many countries a similar shift has already taken place, so the EU is not breaking new ground, but by grounding its narrative in these ideas, the EU does strengthen the foundation for further changes. Will these changes make Europe the world leader in research as hoped? Are the indicators and benchmarks up to that task? Is a more concentrated system of research universities, like that found in the US, the way to achieve this? Which countries will be most effective in obtaining funds, and which researchers will get them? Will the new rules and conditions lead their projects be groundbreaking and risky or more conservative?

What kind of pursuit is Horizon 2020? I am reminded of this short poem by Stephen Crane:

I saw a man pursuing the horizon;

Round and round they sped.

I was disturbed at this;  

I accosted the man.

“It is futile,” I said,

“You can never —”

“You lie,” he cried,  

And ran on.

Chasing horizons in hopes of catching them is likely futile, but we may still find great value in the process of seeking to get there.


Mitchell Young works at Charles University in Prague (Czech Republic) in the Department of West European Studies where he is conducting his doctoral research on the implementation of research policy and issues related to European Higher Education and Research Area. 

This article was originally posted on the Europe of Knowledge blog.


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Europe of Knowledge 2014: High Expectations and Complex Realities

Inga Ulnicane


Image: “The Large Hadron Collider/ Atlas at CERN. Source:”

The New Year of 2014 in European research policy comes with a couple of high profile events: launch of Horizon 2020 – one of the largest research funding programmes worldwide and envisaged completion of the European Research Area – so far the most comprehensive initiative in transnational knowledge governance. These major events involve a lot of activities at the organisational, national and global levels to facilitate effectiveness of research organisations and funding, to promote mobility and to support collaboration.

The year 2014 also marks a number of interesting anniversaries in the European research integration. It is the 60th anniversary of CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research where among other things 25 years ago World Wide Web was invented. Moreover, 30 years ago the first European Framework Programme providing funding for research and development was launched. These events provide an opportunity to reflect on why and how transnational governance in the field of research has evolved and what kind of benefits has it delivered.


Context: why does transnational knowledge governance matter?

Research is a unique area of transnational governance because at the micro-level of the scientific community and research practice it has a long-tradition of internationalisation. Already in the Middle Ages learned institutions of the time – universities and monasteries – were linked by religious institutions having a broad pan-European scope (Crawford et al. 1993). Major university cities such as Paris, Bologna, Padua, Oxford and Toledo attracted faculty and students from all over Europe. During early professionalization of science in the 17th and 18th centuries researchers exchanged information in self-organising networks known as “invisible colleges” (Crane 1972; Price & Beaver 1966; Wagner 2008) and co-authored publications (Beaver & Rosen 1978). The late 19th century and the early 20th century witnessed active formation of international science associations (Crawford et al. 1993). Scientific community has developed a worldwide system of journals, associations, conferences, and personal and institutional networks. Some disciplines such as natural sciences have longer and stronger traditions of international interaction than others, e.g. social sciences and humanities. Thus, the scientific community already historically has been more internationally connected than most of the other professions. International links have facilitated scientific discoveries by ensuring circulation of knowledge and bringing together necessary expertise.

In the recent decades international collaboration among scientists have increased as shown for example by the growth of internationally co-authored publications (Adams 2013) due to a number of scientific and other reasons such as increased specialisation in science, growth of interdisciplinary research, need for complex instrumentation, growth of information and communication technologies, globalisation of industry, policies supporting internationalisation and easier travel (Katz & Martin 1997). Recently, focus on the need for research to solve the so-called grand challenges – major socio-economic problems of global scope in areas such as health, environment and energy (Cagnin et al. 2012) – provides an additional push towards international collaboration.

In parallel to trans-national research networks and practices, science is also characterised by diverse national systems and strong national interests. Most of the research funding is allocated nationally. Nedeva (2013) conceptualises relationship between internationalised research community and predominantly national research funding as a “tension between inherently global research fields and largely localised research spaces”. According to her, transnational research governance is emerging as an attempt to alleviate this tension. Important steps in the development of trans-national research governance started in the aftermath of World War II. These include intergovernmental initiatives in developing large-scale research infrastructures, gradual development of EU level research policy and global initiatives such as recent establishment of the Global Research Council.


Some milestones in transnational research governance

One of the major intergovernmental international science initiatives started in 1954 with the establishment of CERN, the biggest particle physics laboratory in the world. Established by 12 European countries and strong involvement of the United States (Krige 2006) it has grown to 20 member states, many collaborating countries and some 10 000 scientists from more than 100 countries doing research there. Large-scale scientific infrastructure at CERN has enabled complex experiments such as observation of the Higgs boson in 2012 confirming the theory for which the Nobel prize in physics was awarded in 2013. Unexpectedly, in 1989 a major breakthrough far from the field of particle physics took place at CERN when in order to connect CERN’s internationally mobile staff Tim Berners-Lee invented World Wide Web; it was made freely available and lead to fast growth of the web. During its history CERN has experienced tensions between collaborative needs and national interests of its member states, which are present also in ongoing efforts to build a large scale scientific infrastructure such as the European Spallation Source (Hallonsten 2012).

In the gradual development of EU research policy, the launch of the First Framework Programme in 1984 was one of the major milestones. Initially, the Framework Programme mainly brought together existing initiatives such as the Joint Research Centre budget and the ESPRIT funding program for IT (Peterson & Sharp 1998). Moreover, increased involvement of the European Community in research experienced strong opposition from the major member states such as Germany and the UK. However, during 30 years the Framework Programme (with the Eighth Framework Programme known as Horizon 2020 starting in 2014) have expanded considerably, gained support from diverse stakeholder groups and experienced considerable shift in priorities, e.g. if the First Framework Programme was heavily dominated by funding for energy (50% of the budget) and ICT (25%) then in subsequent programmes funding for aims such as human capital and mobility experienced sharp increase.

The Framework Programme has facilitated cross-border collaborations and developed innovative research funding modes. However, a significant question is whether EU research policy can move beyond narrow focus mainly on EU level funding programmes (Banchoff 2003). The Framework Programmes/Horizon 2020 alone cannot address all the important issues in European research governance; having a more comprehensive mix of policy initiatives is important.


Completing the European Research Area in 2014: a realistic target?

The European Research Area initiative launched by the European Commission in 2000 is so far the most comprehensive initiative in developing transnational research governance (Edler et al. 2003; Delanghe et al. 2009). The key priorities for the ERA in which “researchers, scientific knowledge and technology circulate freely” are more effective national research systems, optimal transnational co-operation and competition, an open labour market for researchers, gender equality and circulation of scientific knowledge via digital ERA. The aim of ERA is to make European research more efficient, competitive and better able to address major socio-economic problems.

To achieve ERA aims, a number of revised and new funding and “soft” governance instruments are used. Funding instruments include not only new instruments within the Framework Programme (e.g. Networks of Excellence, Joint Technology Initiatives) but also joint research programmes among the member states and opening up of national programmes for international participation (Lepori et al. 2014).

Additionally, the ERA is developed by using “soft modes” of governance, i.e. the so-called Open Method of Coordination OMC which involves setting joint targets, monitoring how they are implemented in national policies and ensuring mutual learning. Such method of coordination is deemed to be appropriate to accommodate diversity of national research policies and heterogeneity of involved institutions; however its efficiency has been questioned (De Ruiter 2010; Kaiser & Prange 2004; McGuinness & O’Carroll 2010). The task of overseeing ERA-related OMC activities has been assigned to the European Research Area and Innovation Committee (ERAC) consisting of the EU Member States’ representatives. As the ERAC was formerly known as the CREST, Scientific and Technical Research Committee – advisory committee of national representatives established in 1974, an interesting question is if there is continuity of accumulating experience of mutual learning in EU research policy over 40 years.

While there have been considerable efforts to strengthen ERA governance as a partnership between the member states, stakeholders and the Commission, an important leadership function is undertaken by the Commission. For example, the Commission has undertaken the leading role in monitoring the ERA by publishing the first comprehensive ERA progress report in 2013; it remains to be seen if the monitoring exercises will enhance mutual learning and deliberation among the member states and stakeholders or will be seen merely as an additional reporting burden.

An important question remains about the usefulness of legal instruments in achieving the ERA aims. While the legally binding instruments can facilitate specific ERA priorities such as open labour market for researchers, it is less clear how much they can help in achieving “effective national research systems”. In 2013, new proposals (including the manifesto “A Maastricht for Research” by two members of the European Parliament) for legally binding measures to implement ERA were put forward. A possibility to make decisions in 2014 about the need for specific legal measures has been mentioned.

The year 2014 is a deadline for completing the ERA, as set out by a number of EU documents including the Innovation Union flagship. This deadline has been widely criticised by experts and stakeholders either as being set too early or as unnecessary for a very broad long-term agenda of ERA. As stated in the Science Europe Roadmap, ERA “is a long-term project, and to strive for its ‘completion’ would be to lack ambition”. Thus, in 2014 it is important to look beyond predictable headlines of “missed target” on how a comprehensive agenda of ERA can be implemented in a sustainable way.


Trends to watch in multi-level knowledge governance in 2014

Globalisation: some interesting ongoing developments at global level include an emerging worldwide network of research universities as well as activities dedicated to research integrity and open access by the Global Research Council – a voluntary cooperation among about 70 national and regional research councils established in 2012. At the times when new players (e.g. emerging economies like BRICS, MINTs[i], Asia) are shifting the balance of power in global science and higher education, it is interesting to observe new patterns of international collaboration and competition and Europe’s changing role and place, e.g. in Global University Rankings.

EU level: 2014 comes with important institutional and leadership changes in EU research governance. DG Research and Innovation is undergoing major reorganisation and will have a new structure. In May a new European Parliament will be elected and the Euroscience is planning to use the momentum to organise debates to raise the profile of science in Europe. The new Commission will come with a new Commissioner for Research and a new Commission’s president. In 2014 the European Research Council has a new president Jean-Pierre Bourguignon. It remains to be seen if new leaders and new EU presidencies – Greece (January-June) and Italy (July-December) – bring new priorities to research policy.

National level: a number of events in 2013 led to questions about how much national governments and society value research. Austerity measures hit science in countries such as Greece and Spain, while new cabinets in Austria and Australia omitted dedicated science minister portfolios. In 2014 one of occasions prompting debates about value and evaluation of research at national level could be the completion of the Research Excellence Framework in the UK.

Stakeholders: in 2013 a number of European stakeholder organisations such as Euroscience, Eurodoc, Voice of the Researchers and others continued to raise their voices on core issues such as research careers, mobility and doctoral training. Further debates can be expected at one of the major biennial stakeholder events this year, i.e. ESOF 2014  Euroscience Open Forum.

Research organizations: last but not least – how universities and research institutes will be affected by and respond to the changes at global, European and national level and how are they going to use their autonomy to participate in and shape them?

These ongoing developments in trans-national and multi-level governance of knowledge lead to a number of scholarly and policy relevant questions, for example: the ERA is presented as a Single Market for research but is the market model relevant for organising research systems (Georghiou 2006) and scientific community (Hagstrom 1965)? What are the underlying ideas and values in the European knowledge governance? How research policy priorities of “excellent science” and “societal challenges” are defined and implemented? How multi-level research governance interacts with governance in related policy areas such as higher education, innovation, environment, regional development and economy?

In 2014, UACES’s ERA CRN will address these and other questions in a number of workshops and publications. We look forward to engaging with other scholars and practitioners interested in the multi-level knowledge governance.

Dr.Inga Ulnicane is a political scientist and European studies scholar specializing in multi-level governance and policy of science, technology, innovation and higher education.

This entry was initially posted on Europe of Knowledge blog.


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[i] “BRICS” stands for Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, but “MINTs” stands for Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey.

Integrating Science and Research into the Ministry of Economy in Austria: Better Coordination of Innovation Cycle?

Thomas König


After the election on 29 September 2013, Austria is facing another five years of the same coalition government under the Social Democrat Werner Faymann (SPÖ) and his junior partner, the conservative Christian People’s Party (ÖVP). While the Austrian media is almost unison in attesting this renewed government a sense of gridlock, one decision has caused an outcry and stirred even demonstrations: there will be no independent ministry for science and research anymore. Instead, the conservative Reinhold Mitterlehner will add the science and higher education agenda under the wings of his Ministry of Economy.

Among the many critics, some (the author included) have argued that this may constitute an opportunity, since the minister is a heavyweight within the government (unlike his hapless predecessor, Minister Töchterle). The majority however holds that the move is a simple sign of further economisation of the higher education sector. Almost no one outside of the government believes that the decision follows a distinct political strategy; judging on ground of the past five years, we know that the two parties in power are hardly interested in science and research at all. In the concrete context of forging the government, it seems as if science had to yield to a separate portfolio for family affairs (the number of ministries should not be extended, and family affairs is deemed more necessary by the heads of the government).


Austria: Innovation Leader or Follower?

Dismantling the ministry of science and research has a distinctive European angle. According to the European Commission’s Innovation Union Scoreboard, assessing the research and innovation performance of the EU27 Member States, in 2013 Austria is still an “Innovation Follower” – despite being one of the wealthiest and most productive economies in the Union. In 2011, the previous Austrian government (with the same chancellor, the same Vice-chancellor, and the same minister for economic affairs) has adopted the so-called FTI-Strategy (Forschung-Technologie-Innovation, Research-Technology-Innovation), which boldly proclaims to make Austria an “Innovation Leader”.

The goal to become an “Innovation Leader” is ambitious, although probably not too ambitious for a country that is faring quite well during the last years. Austria, however, has embarked on a Sonderweg, particularly in comparison with other European countries of similar size: unlike Israel, Denmark, Switzerland, or Sweden, the Austrian government is devoting more than 2/3 of public R&D money to industry-related research. The contributions for basic research and universities are far lower than in the countries just mentioned.

The problems of the basic research-funding agency, FWF, and also of the universities (that have made world media coverage in 2009/10 when #unibrennt movement against restrictions to the access to higher education spread from Vienna), can be found in this rather unique and, some would suggest, quite unfair balancing of taxpayers’ money. In any case: private industry already benefits from the expansion of investment more than the public institutions such as universities. Against this backdrop, the integration of science and research into the ministry of economy could be interpreted as another blow for the scientific community in Austria.


Looking to Europe

It is, however, noteworthy to take a closer look at the various justifications for the integration (or merger?) given by the new minister Mitterlehner early this week. Interestingly, they also refer to European issues of science policy.

The first justification by Mitterlehner for integrating the science and research agenda into the ministry for economic affairs referred to European good practice models: countries like UK or Spain had done a similar merger, so the minister. It is true that in both countries, the universities, research, and science in general belong to a larger ministry (or department). In UK, however, the institutional set-up of the executive branch is too different for easy comparison. Also, with David Willets, there is a dedicated Minister of State for Science and Universities. By and large, the Spanish solution resembles what is happening in Austria right now. If that were true, the future is bleak: for the moment at least, we can only hope that the brutally hard and ignorant path of the Spanish government towards science will not serve as a template for the Austrian government.

The other justification is about synergy effects: by bringing together two branches of the national administration, policy instruments should be better coordinated in the future. Mitterlehner even mentioned that his ministry would now cover the entire innovation chain (in this written statement, this was quietly exchanged to the more appropriate notion of the innovation cycle). In the same context, the minister explicitly refers to the new European research-funding programme. The ministry would now basically mirror the different facets and pillars of Horizon 2020.

It is true that the Austrian innovation and research system requires better coordination (like many other national innovation systems do). However, it is not true that the Ministry of Economy now covers all instruments, from funding basic research to industry-support. Most of the instruments directed at applied research are actually located in the Ministry for Transport, Innovation and Technology (bmvit). And anyhow, even if all instruments were to be located under the roof of one ministry, it is doubtful that this would result in better coordination – or at least, historically, it did not, as we learned in the early 2000s, when the bmvit was actually the only principal of almost all various agents.


Merger or subordination?

Still, the reference to Horizon 2020 is quite interesting. It is a signal that this programme has become the point of reference of research policy in EU Member States. It is also an interesting remark because it may indicate that the new leadership will be more outward looking, and will focus more on the political agenda of the European Research Area. If that were the case, the new minister may indeed start to appreciate basic research as a value on its own; and, maybe as important, he may build up more pressure on the universities to reform, something that is dearly missing so far.

So, what do we learn from this trip into the narrow world of Austrian science policy? Firstly, that the Austrian Sonderweg is probably to continue, even though the institutional integration of two ministries also holds the (unlikely) promise of strengthening all ties of the innovation cycle (and particularly the weak basic research). Secondly, we come to realize that the justifications mentioned above either do not hold, or have to be seen as signs of worse to come. And thirdly, we learn that the European research policy agenda, and “Horizon 2020” in particular, has become the point of reference for science policy in a European Union member state like Austria. Is the latter good news? Much will depend whether Minister Mitterlehner will interpret the enlargement of his portfolio as a merger of two ministries, or as the subordination of science and research under the Ministry of Economy. For that, and for concrete results of this development, we will have to wait and see.


Dr.Thomas König is currently on parental leave. In 2014, he will be a Fulbright Scholar at the Center for European Studies, Harvard University.


This post initially appeared on Europe of Knowledge blog.

Horizon 2020: Science with a Con-science


Diana Jane Beech

A high-level round table of important players in the European Research Area took place earlier this month to discuss the ethics and values that should lie at the heart of the forthcoming Horizon 2020 programme. At stake is the future of European research.

The European Research Area, or ERA, is bracing itself for a major change on the ‘horizon’. On 1 January 2014, the way the European Union (EU) selects and supports science projects will be superseded by the ‘Horizon 2020’ framework programme.

Equipped with a long-range budget of over €70 billion, Horizon 2020 can already lay claim to being Europe’s largest research programme.

With ‘Excellent Science’ clearly earmarked as one of its three priority areas, Horizon 2020 specifically seeks to raise the level of excellence in Europe’s science base and to foster a steady stream of world-class research, primarily to create new jobs and growth in Europe, and to secure the EU’s long-term competitiveness.

Over the course of the next seven years, then, hundreds of thousands of researchers and entrepreneurs in the EU – together with their partners across the globe – will receive funding to carry out frontier research of the highest quality in both academia and industry.

The intention is to open up new and promising fields of innovation, while working to overcome many of the world’s ‘grand challenges’ such as pandemics, climate change, security threats, and food and energy shortages.

Values and ethics

The strategic importance of science to the EU’s political agenda is clear.

Yet, while European officials and stakeholders in the research area are busily counting down to the launch of Horizon 2020, has anybody spared sufficient thought for what the role and place of values and ethics will be in the EU’s new research programme?

Until now, the focus of policy discussions has been firmly fixed on the potential of the new framework programme to break down barriers to create a genuine single European market for knowledge. Little thought has been given to defining and maintaining the ethical boundaries of European research that are so vital to its future flourishing and success.

A select group of leaders in Europe’s research and innovation community are, however, beginning to change all this and put attention back on the ‘big’ questions inherent to European science.

As recently as 5 November, some 30 ‘big names’ in the ERA got together in a high-level roundtable – the first of its kind dedicated to discussing the most pressing questions of values and ethics in the construction of ERA policy.

Forming part of a wider research project run by the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion in Cambridge, in the UK, the workshop was generously hosted by the Norwegian Mission to the EU under the auspices of Science Business.

The purpose of the day was to bring together leading figures from academia and industry, with members of the European parliament and scientific advisors, to reflect on the core values that are needed to drive European innovation in the ‘right’ direction for the future – and, ultimately, to draft an ethical charter for European research.

ERA’s moral purpose

Acknowledging the fact that Europe’s larger pot of public funding for research brings with it an increased number of ethical quandaries, participants were asked to think seriously about what sort of projects the EU should be funding, under what terms, and for whose benefits. At issue in the debate were the broader values of European science, and not merely its economic or social value.

As such, discussions brought to the fore some of the biggest questions surrounding the nature of Europe’s growing ‘knowledge economy’, as participants grappled to define the moral purpose of the ERA: Where is it going? Where should it be going? And what is needed to keep it on the ‘right’ track for the future?

Specific questions were asked about Horizon 2020 funds. In particular, participants debated whether the money should be used to support excellent research wherever it may be in the EU, or whether it should be distributed among the EU-28 and its respective research communities according to shared principles of fairness and equality.

Questions were also raised about the wider purpose of the money – specifically whether it should be used to promote research that generated ‘pure’ knowledge, or to support only those projects that clearly demonstrated European ‘added value’ such as the creation of new jobs, products and services.

Dichotomies of modern-day research dominated discussions, and participants debated at length the issues raised by private gain versus public good, trust versus accountability, and freedom versus solidarity.

Central to all of these issue clusters were questions of responsibility. For example, what responsibility, if any, do ERA policy-makers have to ensure that Europe’s research outputs are used for the good of the wider society?

To what extent do researchers receiving EU funds, and their institutions, share this responsibility? And how do we ensure a basic level of scientific integrity, particularly in the light of Horizon 2020’s emphasis on collaborations across borders, disciplines and sectors?

The detailed results of the round table are due to be published in an official report by Science Business at the end of this month. The results will form the basis of a new charter for European research that seeks to ensure the aims of Europe’s new framework programme remain as holistic as its intended approach.

The future and success of European science policy is about much more than science itself. It stems from a rich post-war history of scientific diplomacy continually bringing people together for purposes of peace and prosperity and the common good.

To move effectively into the future, then, Horizon 2020 needs to embrace this value-driven approach, not simply developing Europe’s science, but developing Europe’s con-science as well.

* Dr Diana Jane Beech is a research associate at the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion in Cambridge, UK, where she is currently working on a project exploring the role and relevance of values in the European Research Area, or ERA. She is also an active member of the ‘Voice of the Researchers’ multipliers group and the communications coordinator of a collaborative research network dedicated to the study of the ERA.

This article was originally published in the University World News, Issue No:297. It also appeared on the Ideas on Europe blog.

Building the European Research Area: Joint calls on the eve of Horizon 2020

Ino Agrafioti


An important aim of the European Research Area (ERA) is to facilitate the voluntary coordination among national research funding agencies. While most of the research funding is allocated nationally, the ERA encourages national research funding bodies to set up joint trans-national calls to fund European research networks. Since the launch of ERA in 2000, a number of new trans-national funding instruments have been established and supported by the EU Framework Programmes, such as ERA-NET, ERA-NET Plus, the “Article 185” initiatives, the Joint Technology Initiatives (JTIs) and the Joint Programming Initiatives (JPIs).

In order to facilitate joint trans-national calls, political will is needed to change/adjust national funding procedures. The 2013 ERA progress report published last month demonstrated that alignment of national administrative procedures has not advanced as much as it was hoped.


What are joint trans-national research funding calls?

Joint trans-national research funding instruments include schemes such as ERA-NET, ERA-NET Plus, the “Article 185” initiatives, the Joint Technology Initiatives (JTIs) and the Joint Programming Initiatives (JPIs).[i]

ERA-NETs were first introduced in the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) to develop and strengthen the coordination of public research programmes conducted at national or regional level, in this way tackling the issue of fragmentation of the ERA. Given their success and the long-term perspective of this scheme, it was continued in FP7 but was also reinforced with a new instrument, “ERA-NET Plus”, in which Community financial support was provided for “topping-up” the joint trans-national research funding. In Horizon2020, the ERA-NET scheme will take the form of a merger between the former ERA-NET and ERA-NET Plus instruments: in this new instrument (called ERA-NET) it will be compulsory to implement one substantial call and this call will receive top-up funding from the Commission.

The Lisbon treaty brought new instruments, aiming at closer coordination of national R&D programmes. First, measures under Article 185 foresaw the participation of the Community in the joint implementation of national programmes, implying that the participating Member States integrate (rather than simply coordinate) their research efforts by defining and committing themselves to a joint research programme, in which the European Community promotes the voluntary integration of scientific, managerial and financial aspects. Second, the Joint Technology Initiatives (JTI, Article 187) are public-private partnerships involving the EU, national and private resources, know-how and research capabilities for a period of many years, with the aim of addressing major issues in areas of global competitiveness and high societal relevance.

More recently, the Ljubljana-process launched Joint Programming (JP) whose main objective was to address common societal challenges. Joint Programming is a strategic approach (and not an instrument), through which a more efficient and more effective public R&D funding in Europe shall be reached. Once the societal challenges of common interest were determined they were transformed into JP Initiatives (JPI) with Strategic Research Agendas aiming to strengthen Europe’s capacity to translate the results of its research into tangible benefits for society and for the overall competitiveness of its economy.

Public funding leverage

In the recent “Report on ERA-NET, ERA-NET Plus and JPIs and their joint calls” by the EC, it was stated that the total public funding of research implemented by ERA-NETs, ERA-NET Plus and JPIs between 2004 and 2012 amounts to more than € 2.06 Billion. For the period 2013 – 2015, calls with a total volume between € 845 Million and € 1.2 Billion public funding are currently expected.

This and the fact that the annual public funding leveraged by these instruments is also growing quite steadily are great achievements, but one should ask whether this level of funding is good enough. For example, if one compares the € 455 Million total public funding leveraged by these instruments in 2013 (as according to the report mentioned above) with the EU-27’s Gross domestic Expenditure on Research and Development (GERD) for the same year (provisionally estimated at around EUR 257 billion in 2013), then one concludes that only 0.2% of GERD was invested in trans-national projects.

What emerges from such an analysis is that public funding leveraged might not be high enough. This result is most probably a reflection of the recent financial crisis in Europe, with national research budgets having fallen in most EU countries. Nevertheless, this percentage remains a reflection of the level of political will of the Member States to invest in these trans-national projects.


A more targeted approach

An analysis of the evolution of the joint call instruments reflects a shift in the funding policy regarding the ERA-NET instruments. In FP6, calls for ERA-NETs were open to any field of science and technology (beyond the FP6 priorities) and the scheme was implemented through a bottom-up approach, in the sense that no preference to specific research themes or disciplines was given. In FP7, the focus is shifted from the funding of networks to the top-up funding of individual joint calls. The thematic areas are more restricted since in the case of ERA-NETs “bottom up” proposals are accepted only in specific areas corresponding to the Work Programme, whereas for the newly introduced ERA-NET Plus instrument the topics were chosen beforehand.

In Horizon2020, the approach is becoming even more targeted, since funding will be available only if a joint call will be implemented (accompanied with reduced focus on the networking activities) and only in pre-selected areas with high European added value and relevance for Horizon2020. Their aim is an increase in the share of funding dedicated jointly Member States to challenge-driven research and innovation.

There has thus been a clear shift from a “bottom-up and networking-heavy” approach in FP6 to a “targeted and call-dependent” approach in Horizon2020. It is also evident that fundamental research joint calls have suffered from this shift.

The real implementation costs

High interest in implementation of the joint funding instruments was confirmed by the oversubscribed ERALEARN workshop that took place in Brussels last month, aimed at training people responsible of running joint calls. Participants of the workshop were trained on the stages of the call implementation process based on ERALEARN’s online toolbox, introduced to the interesting studies prepared by the ERALEARN team and in parallel discussed the instruments themselves. Such discussions greatly benefited from the fact that participants were a great mixture of newcomers and experienced practitioners.

It was realised early on in the workshop that there is wide variation in the call implementation costs (staff effort for coordination and travel costs for evaluators and staff) between different consortia. It was thus great news that members of the ERALEARN team have already started a much-needed study of the man effort and costs of joint calls. This cost/benefit questionnaire they have prepared is aimed at self-evaluation of the consortia. However, given that the funding provided by the EC for joint call implementation is being decreased in Horizon2020, it could help funding agencies understand what the realistic costs of joint calls are as well as in which ways the efficiency of the calls can be improved.

The analysis of the few data collected so far showed that the joint call implementation costs decrease with experience, i.e. the initial costs of a call are high since the implementation procedures (for the different options see ERALEARN’s toolbox) need to be established, but once this is achieved, the costs exponentially decrease. This is true for the costs for the whole consortium and the costs per partner.

Since each funding consortium is different, it is logical that there will be in the joint call costs as well, but this study provides evidence that once funding agencies learn how to work together, the costs of trans-national calls decrease. This is a very positive result since it implies that there has been a clear benefit for the instruments and funding that has been invested through the Framework Programmes.

Dr. Ino Agrafioti is a Scientific Officer at CNRS, France

This post was originally published at “Europe of Knowledge” blog.

[i] For analysis see also Barre et al. (2013) “Measuring the integration and coordination dynamics of the European Research AreaScience and Public Policy 40: 187–205; Edler, J (2012) “Toward variable funding for international scienceScience, 338(6105), 331-332.

The European Research Area: Beyond Market Politics

Diana Jane Beech

The way the European Union regards science and research is changing. There is an increased emphasis on producing marketable deliverables for financial gain. At the same time, the advent of Horizon 2020 raises important yet often-overlooked questions.

Where is it exactly that European research policy is heading? And is this in line with where it ought to be heading, if it really is to create a ‘new Renaissance’ with the potential to transform the way Europe ‘does’ science for the better and in a way that is sustainable for the long term?

To answer this, attention must first be paid to the extent that the current projected vision for the European Research Area, or ERA, is in danger of moving away from the motivations and expectations of researchers at the grassroots of the European innovation chain.

From Galileo through to Gell-Mann, or from Newton to Einstein, scientists throughout European history have traditionally been driven in their work by curiosity about the world around them and the desire to find answers to life’s great mysteries.

It is this blind and often serendipitous pursuit of knowledge that has been behind many of the greatest scientific breakthroughs of the modern world.

As such, if researchers are to retain any sense of awe and wonder, or the inspiration and drive that have historically been at the heart of their day-to-day discoveries, it is essential that an emphasis on personal humility is not eclipsed in today’s ERA by policies endorsing only ‘applied’ or ‘targeted’ science.

The European Commission’s senior advisory board on the ERA has already recognised that for the European Union, or EU, to make the transition to a more streamlined ERA requires “fundamental change in the way we think, work and research – indeed a change as great as any in our history”.

In its first public report, it called this change a ‘new Renaissance’, deliberately alluding to earlier revolutions in thought, society and science to underscore the importance of this juncture in European research policy for readdressing the social reality of the EU as we know it.

Yet achieving this projected ‘new Renaissance’ is no mean feat, since effecting policy synergy in the ERA not only requires striking a balance between the respective demands of the market, research communities and society at large, but also creating a strategic, common vision shared by the EU-28, and the various traditions and research cultures thereby represented.

Europe 2020

To realise the ‘new Renaissance’, the EU is set to launch the Horizon 2020 framework programme 2014-20, which is scheduled to supersede the seventh framework programme at the end of this year.

Horizon 2020 will specifically effectuate the ‘Innovation Union’, which has been placed at the very heart of the ‘Europe 2020’ growth strategy, in the hope that it will turn innovative ideas neatly into products and services, and thereby create more jobs and boost growth to ease Europe out of crisis.

Equipped with a larger budget, and a proportion expressly dedicated to strengthening industrial leadership in science, Horizon 2020 encourages a decidedly market-driven approach to research and, as such, suggests a shift away from ‘pure’ knowledge generation towards the innovation of viable products.

Now, more than ever, serious thought must be given to whether the act of alleviating the grand challenges identified as facing Europe should be so directly linked to such a strong push “to bring ideas to the market”.

With the boundaries increasingly blurring between academia, business and industry, there is a strong need to ensure that the ‘essence’ of science and research is not lost to subsidiary pressures to publish and generate profit.

Admittedly, scientific diplomacy has long formed the cornerstone for social progress in the EU – ever since the EURATOM Treaty (1957) used energy research to promote peace and prosperity on the continent in the aftermath of war.

Faced with a new financial downturn, however, the onus is on EU officials to ensure that the ERA will continue to support collaborative, cross-border research with strong societal contributions at its core, and not cave in to the urge to use research for economic ends alone.

The mounting pressure to overcome the financial crisis and to respond to an ever-growing number of grand societal challenges means that the need to complete the ERA is greater than ever before.

However, systems need to be put in place to safeguard and increase trust between policy-makers, scientists and citizens. Careful consideration must be given to ensure that the ERA is formalised in such a way that it simultaneously addresses the needs of all stakeholders, and not just those at the top of the political and commercial game.

After all, it is ‘research’ that is at the heart of the ERA and must remain so if Europe is to stand any chance of effecting a ‘new Renaissance’ with the capacity to transform the role and purpose of science in society for a sustainable future.

Diana Beech is a research associate in the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion at Cambridge, where she currently manages a project exploring the role and relevance of values to contemporary European science and research policy. Further to this, Diana is the communications coordinator of the European Research Area Collaborative Research Network, generously supported by the Academic Association for Contemporary European Studies, and also a founding member of the European Commission-initiated ‘Voice of the Researchers’ network intended to provide researchers with a channel through which to influence the future of the ERA.

This article was originally published in the University World News on 5 October 2013 (Issue 290) and also appears in the Europe of Knowledge blog.

Integrating Social Sciences and Humanities in Horizon 2020 Societal Challenges: Will it work?

Thomas König and Katja Mayer

Reports from various parts of Europe confirm urgency of the topics put forward by the conference “Horizons for Social Sciences and Humanities” held last week 23-24 September 2013 in Vilnius under the Lithuanian EU Presidency. On twitter alone, the conference hashtag #horizonsSSH was used more than 600 times. The conference was widely covered in traditional and new media (see Guardian, Der Standard, Liberation, lzinios, Net4Society, Research Europe, Science Guide and Hypothèses). In preparation for the conference, a number of stakeholder organizations such as the League of European Research Universities LERU and Science Europe published dedicated reports on contribution of social sciences and humanities (SSH) to solving societal challenges.

The conference highlighted once more that world-class European SSH are indispensable in generating knowledge about the dynamic changes that transform our societies. They form the basis of the Horizon 2020 Societal Challenges Pillar and their integration with other sciences will broaden our understanding of innovation, driven not only by technological advances, but also by societal expectations, values and demands. The Vilnius Declaration nicely elaborates crucial principles that form the basis for the integration of the SSH in Horizon 2020: defining research problems in novel ways; carefully considering the working conditions of all research partners and setting up efficient collaboration across different disciplines and research fields; fostering interdisciplinary training and research; and connecting social values and research evaluation.

However, such principles also reveal some concerns. One is, that the rhetoric of “integrating” the SSH into the “Societal Challenges”, predefined by European Commission (EC), European Council and the European Parliament, is not (yet?) matched by the institutional means to realize this goal. The Commissioner, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, as well as General Director Robert-Jan Smits both emphasized their good will; but the EC Directorate General (DG) Research and Innovation alone consists of many levels of decision-making (and there are also several other DGs involved). It turned out also that, in many respects, the course of Horizon 2020 is already set for the upcoming two years, without any real change to the procedures or the group of persons involved.

Considering those facts, it became very clear during the conference that “integrating SSH”, despite being a noble goal, is also a risky undertaking. It is rhetorically attractive to policy makers, while its success depends on two crucial aspects. One is the permissiveness of the responsible units within the European Commission that are tasked to carry out the program. This often breaks down to personalities. We may expect very different results from different EC bureaucratic units (i.e., concerning different challenges), pending on the willingness to really integrate representatives of the SSH communities. The other is the persistence of getting involved by people who represent those SSH communities. Continued representation requires structures and people with authority to speak for the communities. Currently, there is neither a robust structure established at European level, nor are there people in view who would preside over such a structure.

After the conference, the question “what follows?” is more crucial than anything else. The Vilnius Declaration is clearly a sign to policy makers that the SSH communities are ready to take up the challenge. But the lack of structural and ideational premises makes it difficult to plan and design contributions. The conference report – currently under preparation and expected to be published in December 2013 – will point out upcoming tasks and the willingness to take up and implement those tasks. From a researcher’s perspective, of course, what is happening right now is thrilling: Can a large, but diversely organized and widely under-informed field such as SSH come at grips with research policy in relatively short time? Will community based efforts to represent SSH lead to emergence of new structures (or revival of existing ones) in order to take action? Does integration remain superficial policy rhetoric (the “ritualisation trap”), or can real change be achieved? The next weeks, months and years will tell. However the message still echoing from the conference is clear: “Take the lead.”

Conference Website

Twitter hashtag: #horizonsSSH

Coming Events: “Achieving Impact: Socio-Economic Sciences and Humanities in Horizon 2020” Feb 26-27, 2014, Athens, Greece

Dr. Thomas König and Dr. Katja Mayer are assistants to the Conference Steering Committee.


This post was originally published on “Europe of Knowledge” blog.