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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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Market elements in universities: Potential conflict with EU competition law?

Andrea Gideon

Education and research policy have developed at the European level over recent decades. In particular the Bologna Process and the Lisbon/Europe 2020 Strategy have played a significant role.[i] If one, however, examines the actual competences to create legislation for these policy matters at EU level, one finds that these are limited. The EU has only a complementary competence for education which means that the EU essentially can only enact programmes supporting the Member States.[ii]For the policy area of research, the EU and the Member States share competences since the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon allowing the EU to pass legislation beyond the Framework Programmes/Horizon2020 in order to achieve the European Research Area.[iii] Prior to that, the EU also only had a supporting role to play and, even since, there has been no significant harmonisation of national research policies. The Member States are, therefore, still mainly responsible for research and higher education policies affecting universities. However, universities can be affected by EU law in other areas, for example, by EU competition law.

Increased competition with private sector

The Member States, potentially encouraged by developments at the EU level,[iv] have increasingly brought market elements such as fees, research for the private sector and business style management into their universities. Universities now engage in intellectual property right exploitation, set up spin-offs and conduct more applied research or research with impact thereby competing increasingly with private sector entities. Public research funding is equally increasingly distributed in a competitive fashion.[v] Also, the financial crisis has left its mark with some Member States increasing and others significantly cutting funding for universities;[vi] the latter of which requires universities even more to look for alternative income. The boundaries between the private and the public as regards universities have therefore become less clear.

These developments might have a side-effect, though. If universities become more commercial, they might fall under the more commercial provisions of EU law and, if they would breach them, this might require universities to change their behaviour. As an example, we shall look at the provisions on competition law (Article 101-109 TFEU) here.[vii] Competition law regulates the conduct of companies when competing with each other in the Internal Market. However, the entities captured by competition law, are indeed broader than just companies, as Article 101 TFEU refers to ‘undertakings’. The Court has defined such an ‘undertaking’ as ‘every entity engaged in an economic activity’.[viii] An economic activity consists of ‘offering goods or services on a market’.[ix]Therefore, if universities are offering goods or services on a market, they would equally conduct an economic activity and thus be an ‘undertaking’ at least for those activities. For example, higher education ‘sold’ for high tuition fees or contract research could amount to an economic activity. Therefore, the more commercial universities become in their activities, the likelier it gets that they are ‘undertakings’.   

Potential consequences of EU competition law for universities

If universities fall under competition law, this might create problems for them.[x] For example, if universities agree on common tuition fees or common overhead rates for research contracts, they might be seen as being engaged in price fixing, the behaviour of accreditation agencies or bodies distributing study places could potentially amount to market foreclosure or the coordination of activities along subject lines could constitute market division. All of this is behaviour prohibited by Article 101 (1) TFEU which aim it is to prevent collusions (cartels). Article 102 TFEU only applies to dominant ‘undertakings’ prohibiting them to abuse their dominance. A university would therefore have to have a certain economic strength in an area to be considered dominant.[xi]This might be possible, in particular in rarer subjects. If a university is a dominant undertaking and offers research or education for a very low price, it might be accused of predatory pricing, student number controls could be regarded as a limitation of outputs or cooperation only with certain partners to the exclusion of others could equally amount to an abuse of the university’s dominance captured by Article 102 TFEU.

Finally, Article 107 (1) prohibits state aid. Universities might get into conflict with this provisions if, in an area of economic activity, they do not charge full costs plus profit for their activities,[xii] as they could otherwise be regarded as providing or receiving state aid. If the state is ‘contracting’ universities to conduct teaching or research services, in an area of economic activity, one might even wonder if this needs to be commissioned through a public procurement procedure in which private and foreign providers could equally tender in order to avoid infringing Article 107 (1) TFEU.

Should universities come into conflict with competition law as described above, there is, of course, the possibility that they could utilise the exemptions provided in Article 101 (3) TFEU, 107 (2), (3) TFEU and secondary legislation. Furthermore, Article 106 (2) TFEU provides exemptions for services of general economic interest. It would depend on the individual case in how far universities could make use of these exemptions. If none of them applies, the universities might be required to change their behaviour or they might even be subject to fines. EU competition law effects could therefore be an ‘accidental’ consequence of the less clear boundaries between the public and the private as regards universities which universities should be aware of.[xiii]


Andrea Gideon is a research assistant for the Jean Monnet Action ‘Economic and Social Integration in the EU and Beyond – Interdisciplinary Perspectives’, Teaching Assistant and PhD Researcher at the School of Law, University of Leeds, UK.

This entry was initially posted on Europe of Knowledge blog.


  • F Amato and K Farbmann, ‘Applying EU competition law in the education sector’ (2010) 6 IJELP 7
  • DJ Beech, ‘The European Research Area: Beyond Market PoliticsEurope of Knowledge (5 October 2013) accessed 7 October 2013
  • H Connell, ‘The growing significance of the research mission to higher education institutions’ in H Connell (ed) University Research Management (OECD, Paris 2004)
  • A Corbett, ‘Education and the Lisbon Strategy’ in P Copeland and D Papadimitriou (eds), The EU’s Lisbon Strategy: evaluating success, understanding failure (Palgrave MacMillan, Basingstoke 2012)
  • S Croché, ‘Bologna Network: a new sociopolitical area in higher education’ (2009) 7 Globalisation, Societies and Education 489
  • E De Weert, ‘Organised Contradictions of Teaching and Research: Reshaping the Academic Profession’ in J Enders and E de Weert (eds), The changing face of academic life (Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke/New York 2009)
  • E Deiaco, M Holmen and M McKelvey, ‘From social institution to knowledge business’ in M McKelvey and M Holmen (eds), Learning to Compete in European Universities (Edward Elgar, Cheltenham/Northampton 2009)
  • EUA, EUA’s Public Funding Observatory (Spring 2013) (EUA, European University Association, 2013)
  • A Gideon, ‘Higher Education Institutions and EU Competition Law’ (2012) 8 Competition Law Review 169
  • Å Gornitzka, ‘Bologna in Context: a horizontal perspective on the dynamics of governance sites for a Europe of Knowledge’ (2010) 45 European Journal of Education 535
  • P Maassen and C Musselin, ‘European Integration and the Europeanisation of Higher Education’ in A Amaral et al (eds), European Integration and the Governance of Higher Education and Research (Springer, Dordrecht/London 2009)
  • Office of Fair Trading, Call for information on the undergraduate higher education sector in England (Office of Fair Trading, London 2013)
  • D Palfreyman and T Tapper, ‘Structuring Mass Higher Education ‘(Routledge, New York/London 2009)
  • JG Wissema, Towards the Third Generation University (Edward Elgar, Cheltenham/Northampton 2009)

[i] See, for example, S Croché, ‘Bologna Network: a new sociopolitical area in higher education’ (2009) 7 Globalisation, Societies and Education 489, Å Gornitzka, ‘Bologna in Context: a horizontal perspective on the dynamics of governance sites for a Europe of Knowledge’ (2010) 45 European Journal of Education 535, A Corbett, ‘Education and the Lisbon Strategy’ in P Copeland and D Papadimitriou (eds), The EU’s Lisbon Strategy: evaluating success, understanding failure (Palgrave MacMillan, Basingstoke 2012).

[ii] Articles 165-166 TFEU.

[iii] Article 4 TFEU, Article 179-190 TFEU.

[iv] The aim of the Europe2020 Strategy is, inter alia, ‘to promote knowledge partnerships and strengthen links between education, business, research and innovation […] and to promote entrepreneurship’ (Communication from the Commission ‘Europe 2020 – A strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth’ COM(2010) 2020 final). See also the blog entry by Diana Beech ‘The European Research Area: Beyond Market Politics‘ (Europe of Knowledge 2013) 5th October 2013.

[v] See further, in these developments, for example, Connell H, ‘The growing significance of the research mission to higher education institutions’ in Connell H (ed), University Research Management (OECD 2004) p. 17 seq, 21 seq, Deiaco E, Holmen M and McKelvey M, ‘From social institution to knowledge business’ in McKelvey M and Holmen M (eds), Learning to compete in European Universities  (Edward Elgar 2009), Wissema JG, Towards the Third Generation University (Edward Elgar 2009) p. 17 seq, 34 seq, Maassen P and Musselin C, ‘European Integration and the Europeanisation of Higher Education’ in Amaral A et al (ed), European Integration and the Governance of Higher Education and Research (Springer 2009), Palfreyman D and Tapper T, ‘What is an ‘Elite’ or ‘Leading Global’ University?’ in Palfreyman D and Tapper T (eds), Structuring Mass Higher Education (Routledge 2009), De Weert E, ‘Organised Contradictions of Teaching and Research: Reshaping the Academic Profession’ in Enders J and de Weert E (eds), The changing face of academic life (Palgrave Macmillan 2009).

[vi] For an overview of reactions to the financial crisis to HEI funding see European University Association, EUA’s Public Funding Observatory (2012).  

[vii] See for a more extensive analysis Gideon A, ‘Higher Education Institutions and EU Competition Law’ 8 Competition Law Review 169.

[viii] See case C-41/90 Höfner para 21.

[ix] See case 118/85 Commission vs Italy para 7.

[x] See for a more extensive analysis with examples of national competition cases Gideon (n 7).

[xi] This is determined by market definition. See further Gideon (n 7) and Amato F and Farbmann K, ‘Applying EU competition law in the education sector’ 6 IJELP 7.

[xii] See case C-280/00 Altmark.

[xiii] The Office of Fair Trading has in fact recently opened an enquiry into the higher education sector. Office of Fair Trading, Call for information on the undergraduate higher education sector in England (Office of Fair Trading, London 2013).

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.


  • Banchoff, T. (2002) ‘Institutions, Inertia and the European Union Research Policy‘, Journal of Common Market Studies, 40/1:1-21.
  • Barzelay, M. (2001) The New Public Management: Improving Research and Policy Dialogue Berkeley: University of California Press.
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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.

European initiatives in higher education – why should one care?

Martina Vukasovic

To paraphrase one of my colleagues: for all intents and purposes European integration in higher education should not exist. This is not a normative position, but rather an observation of what seems to be somewhat of a puzzle: the European Union has very limited formal competences with regards to education in general, or higher education in particular, but there nevertheless are several European initiatives in higher education that have emerged in the recent (and not so recent) years, like the Bologna Process or the Lisbon Strategy and its successor the Europe 2020 Strategy, that seem to have had significant impact on higher education systems and institutions.

Essentially, there are three dimensions to this phenomenon: (1) new initiatives (or a new governance layer, if you will) forming at the European level, (2) these initiatives having an impact on higher education in countries that are EU members or in some other ways are considered to be part of “Europe” and (3) European initiatives having an impact on developments well outside Europe (e.g. Latin America, US, or Asia-Pacific region). I will briefly discuss each of these dimensions, to provide the basis for the claim that studying the European governance layer in higher education in more detail can contribute not only to better understanding of higher education dynamics but also to better understanding of the dynamics of European integration, its causes and consequences.


Emergence of the European governance layer in higher education

Origins of the European governance layer in higher education were traced by Anne Corbett back to the early ages of the European Union; a number of key policy entrepreneurs and events that lead to what eventually became the Erasmus programme have been identified (Corbett 2005), which in turn lead to the question whether the Bologna Process is as novel as many claim it is (Corbett 2006). Furthermore, an issue of research interest is also how what essentially started as a voluntary process with an unclear governance structure grew into monitored coordination and a consolidated governance arrangement (Ravinet 2008), as well as what are the linkages between the pan-European Bologna Process and the EU Lisbon Strategy (Gornitzka 2010; Keeling 2006). In addition, the focus has also been on the strengthening of the European Commission position in the Bologna follow-up structures (despite initial attempts to exclude it) which adds a supranational element to an otherwise primarily intergovernmental arrangement (Corbett 2011) as well as on the increasing involvement of European stakeholder organizations, such as the European University Association EUA, European Students’ Union ESU, Education International EI, European Association of Institutions in Higher Education EURASHE, whose presence adds a transnational flavour (Elken and Vukasovic forthcoming).

Essentially, what can be observed is the emergence of a Europe of Knowledge based on two main pillars – Lisbon (and its successor Europe 2020) and Bologna – the first firmly grounded in the EU institutions and perhaps more focused on research (in which EU has more significant competences than in higher education), and the other having a more pan-European focus and focusing primarily on higher education (Elken et al. 2011; Maassen and Musselin 2009). Such complex governance arrangement, in which supranational, intergovernmental and transnational dynamics overlap and interact is by no means unique to higher education, given that within the EU, regardless of the sector in focus, similar complexity can be observed (Börzel 2010).

What is distinctive is the existence of both EU and pan-European elements in the European governance layer and how they interact. So far, this interaction served primarily to consolidate and legitimize both processes, but with the further enlargement of the EU (even if only in terms of awarding candidate status to more countries) and the somewhat slowed down tempo of the Bologna Process (ministerial summits now taking place every three instead of two years) it will be interesting to see whether the interaction will lead to fading out of the Bologna element of the European governance layer in higher education or those involved in the process (who also may have some vested interests in keeping it alive) will find a way to re-invent it.

Furthermore, European integration in higher education (and research) is of importance for other sectors as well, given that higher education is being exported as a policy solution to sectors such as social policy, economic competitiveness, environment and security, i.e. higher education is expected to provide solutions to problems identified in other policy sectors. So it could be argued that European integration efforts in these sectors, many of which are at the core of the EU project, will be shaped also by how integration in the area of higher education proceeds in the long run.


Impact on higher education systems and institutions within Europe

The second dimension concerns the impact the emerging European governance layer in higher education has on higher education systems and institutions, or what can be labelled as Europeanization (though see Olsen (2002) for a discussion on different uses of the term). The focus so far has been on convergence of governance approaches or legal frameworks (Amaral et al. 2012; Voegtle et al. 2011), implementation of the Bologna Process (Hoffman et al. 2008; Moscati 2009), the relationship to national policy reforms (Gornitzka 2006; Musselin 2009),  the mechanisms and scope of change in the context of Bologna (Capano and Piattoni 2011; Witte 2006) or the effects of particular elements of European initiatives, e.g.  the  Erasmus  programme (Beerkens and Vossensteyn 2011), the EU Framework Programmes for research (Primeri and Reale 2012), the European Standards and Guidelines for quality assurance in higher education (Stensaker et al. 2010) or the European Scientific Visa and the Blue Card (Cerna and Chou 2013).

Similar to Europeanization in other sectors (see e.g. Cowles et al. 2001; Falkner and Treib 2008), the impact of the European governance layer on higher education systems and institutions is notable, though it varies across countries and issues (EACEA 2012; Westerheijden et al. 2010). This variety is partly related to the characteristics of the European governance layer as such (see below) but also to the differences in the domestic contexts, primarily in terms path-dependencies when it comes to policy formation and implementation (what Falkner and Treib call “worlds of compliance”). Thus, it would be interesting to explore whether the changes primarily amount to what Vaira (2004) has labelled to be an allomorphism – convergence on the surface, diversity underneath. Furthermore, even if there is significant diversity underneath, that does not necessarily imply a weak impact of the European governance layer, but rather points to the ambiguity of some of its preferences (e.g. the social dimension highlighted in the Bologna Process) and the consequent diversity in domestic interpretations both in the process of policy formation and in the process of policy implementation.

As a knowledge intensive sector, higher education is marked by several types of autonomy – universities from the state, constituent departments in relation to their universities, professional autonomy of members of academic staff in relation to their institutions – leading to complex organizational arrangements which provide ample opportunities for translation, use and abuse of the preferences promoted in European initiatives in higher education. Moreover, the European governance layer is not the only source of external influence on higher education policy (and by extension higher education institutions). There are also more diffuse yet not necessarily less powerful global scripts (Meyer 2000) which interact in various ways with the European governance layer and with the domestic contexts.

Here lies another potential contribution of research on higher education to European studies. As Gornitzka and Maassen (2011) demonstrate with a study on autonomy and funding reforms in Denmark, Finland and Norway, even amongst the systems which can be seen to belong to the same “world of compliance”, i.e. even amongst the systems in which significant convergence can be expected, there can be differences in how the same global scripts and European preferences are interpreted and implemented. Thus, studying the different interactions between the global, European, national and local in higher education may be a fruitful exercise for understanding better the key characteristics of each of these layers of governance, and the scope of change that may come as a result of their interaction.


Impact beyond Europe

The relationship between the global scripts and the European preferences provides a good entry point to the discussion of the third dimension of interest – the impact the developments in Europe have on other areas of the world, or how European preferences may become global scripts. This is perhaps the dimension that has been least studied so far. There is some evidence of this impact in higher education, judging by the focus on the external dimension of the Bologna Process (Zgaga 2011) and the establishment of the Bologna Policy Forum taking place in parallel to the Bologna Ministerial Summit, which in 2012 in Bucharest was attended by 23 non-European countries.

Furthermore, there is evidence that the European experience has been an inspiration for other regions of the world. Chinese higher education master plan for 2020 focuses on degree structures, while 52 countries from the Asia-Pacific region in 2006 adopted the Brisbane Communiqué and developed a follow-up governance structure similar to that of Bologna. The experiences from the so-called Tuning project have been exported to Latin America, the US, Russia and Africa with active (financial) support from the European Commission though with different outcomes (in Latin America it seems not to have taken off completely) and the US has increased recognition of the three year bachelor degrees in order to facilitate mobility from Europe to the US (Westerheijden et al. 2010). While the underlying mechanisms of such developments have not been identified in sufficient detail and while there is little data on how these initiatives develop over time, a good starting point could be to analyse whether such developments can be interpreted primarily as the voluntary lesson-drawing by the countries and regions outside of Europe because of Europe’s normative power (Birchfield 2013; Hyde-Price 2006; Manners 2002; Scheipers and Sicurelli 2007) or whether Europe actually plays an active role in these processes for strategic reasons.

In sum, it appears that research on higher education dynamics, either within Europe or beyond, is less and less possible without taking into account multi-level and multi-actor governance arrangements of which the European governance layer is a significant part of. Moreover, research on “all things European” could benefit from focusing more on an area which may be seen as less likely case of European integration and Europeanization, but in which significant developments involving the European governance layer nevertheless abound.


Martina Vukasovic is currently working within the Odysseus project on higher education governance at the Department of Sociology, Ghent University, Belgium. Until November 2013 she was a member of the Higher Education: Institutional Dynamics and Knowledge Cultures Research Group at the Department of Education, University of Oslo, Norway. Her PhD thesis, recently submitted for evaluation, focuses on higher education change in the several countries of the former Yugoslavia and the role the European initiatives have had in these processes.


This entry was initially posted on Europe of Knowledge blog.



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Zgaga, P. (2011). The European Higher Education Area in a global setting. An idea, its implementation, and new challenges. Observatory on Borderless Higher Education, London.

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.

What is the place of ideals in higher education and science?

Filipa M. Ribeiro

Ideals help us to see not only the trees or the forest but also the space between the trees. So, what is scientific research compromising?

388 researchers from humanities and social and natural sciences around the globe were asked about their highest ideal as a researcher. Results show that 33% of researchers and teachers from natural sciences (n=189) and 25% researchers from social sciences and humanities (n=199) say they have no ideals regarding their careers or science itself. Europe is the continent with the highest percentage of researchers with “no ideals”, whereas Africa is the continent where the ideals mentioned are more related to knowledge itself and to a common good of local communities (Ribeiro, 2010).

The next question was to know how these ideals influence researcher’s work. I looked into 30 knowledge networks of researchers working in 4 higher education and scientific institutions in Catalonia. Findings showed that the majority of researchers choose their most important ties for their knowledge creation according to human values. The analysis showed a high correspondence between the personal knowledge networks and a permanent structural aspect of knowledge networks that is based on the role played by values in knowledge creation. Amidst the turbulence of academic life, respondents stick to their personal networks whose strongest ties are based on human and scientific values. Thus, scientific and personal values tend to be more appreciated as drivers for strongest ties than collaboration or expertise. However, and not surprisingly, these values and ideals were more highlighted by older researchers than by younger researchers. Scientific generosity, openness, guidance, true friendship, companionship and purposeful research were the main values named by the informants.

In any scientific endeavour or in any education institution structural relationships must have a certain degree of duration and permanence. When these structural relations are embedded in useful and practical human and transdisciplinary ideals, they become the permanence and refuge in every quest for knowledge in face of any conjunctural fluctuation. Structural relations and scientific inquiries embedded in ideals are comparable to the circulatory system of an organism, in which liquids move faster or slower, but those moves don’t imply a deep modification of the veins. That is the permanent structure that entails the circulation and, analogously, that structure is a stable support to the continuous agitation and variability of scientific research and educational practices. This permanence dimension provided by ideals and values plays a crucial role in the characterization of the structural models (as shown in the analysis of their knowledge networks) and complements past and current educational models.

Ideals and values are present when we ask researchers about why they started doing research on a specific topic and also about their working and thinking styles. However, regarding their working styles there is a clear mismatch between what and how they would like to work and how they actually work. This mismatch is a result of several constraints and struggles that researchers face (Rostan &Vaira, 2011[i]). It is also important to notice that ideals and values become subjectified objects that afford layers of professional meaning and significance and undertake symbolic and actual confrontations that have never been intended or even conceived by their creators. The other side of this is raised by the new features of modern education (e.g., the MOOCs (massive open online courses) and the increasing technologization of teaching) that leads to the reciprocal objectification of subjects. Against these struggles, researchers tend to resist or shape their action conceding with something of their own sense of autonomy. This ‘something of their own’ should be, I argue, universal ideals as a means to rise above a conventional research perspective which is unable to make the transition from dualistic analytic categories of subject and object to the familiar complexity of a surrounding world that makes the most of scientific research.

In fact, development ought to be diverse with ad hoc strategies oriented towards defined goals that benefit each and every one. Ideals in higher education can be rewarding if applicable into the criteria to evaluate scientific achievement. Ideals get us in the habit of questioning the status quo by constantly playing devil’s advocate. Taking the contrarian view of a research project or an educational policy or even a theory can be difficult at first, but if we start to question why the author thinks this way and what happened in the sector that triggered this viewpoint, we begin to think more critically about the contents we are teaching, learning and applying. And critical thinkers make greater institutions.


Figure 1: Ideals at the beginning, in the middle and at the end of any innovation system.

Helga Nowotny recently reminded that “excellence requires reforms and the willingness to implement them in the best possible way”. Both in terms of its epistemological and ontological options, Science has sometimes a strange reputation of not really forming part of what ordinary European citizens call “culture”. As a consequence, scientists find themselves out on a limb and there is a serious need to reconstruct the relationship between science and other forms of higher civilisation. Since C.P. Snow the response from scientists and policy-makers has been, at best, clumsy demonstrating that the relationship to other branches of culture has become somewhat distended. Basically, researchers have reacted to public hostility by arguing that science is relevant to the European citizen in terms of added value, where “value” is the financial return on investment which should, in the future, fund our expensive social welfare system in the “knowledge society”. This is not what the European citizen wants to hear, and he can probably guess it is a bit of a pipe dream. The proverbial man in the Clapham omnibus is fully aware of the difficulties of the modern world. What he really wonders is where Science stands with respect to more fundamental values and ideals. Is it inside or outside our heritage and, if inside, how does it relate to our cultural identity? Until this question is clearly answered, the European citizen will continue to harbour doubts. So, is turning ideals into vivid drivers for science and higher education just a vain utopia? It’s up to each one of us to decide.

Filipa M. Ribeiro is a PhD researcher at the University of Porto.

This post was initially published on Europe of Knowledge blog.

[i] Rostan, M., Vaira, M.(2011). “Structuring the field of excellence”, in Rostan, M., Vaira, M. (eds.) Questioning excellence in Higher education. Sense Publishers.

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.