EURAB recommends change of approach to unleash potential of research organisations

February 7, 2006

Brussels, 06 Feb 2006

The European Research Advisory Board (EURAB) has claimed that European policy is not well adapted to harnessing the potential of research and technology organisations (RTOs).

RTOs are the third component in the European research landscape, along with enterprises and higher education institutions. They are described by EURAB as 'distinctive, mission-oriented R&D [research and development] organisations which perform key functions in European innovation systems and which exhibit characteristic strengths'. They account for around 40 per cent of all publicly funded R&D in the EU, and for about 14 per cent of all R&D.

According to a report by EURAB, 'RTOs could contribute more to ERA if European policy were better adapted to realising their potential'. For example, RTOs with links to industry could help to boost private R&D investment, and could be used as powerful catalysts for regional research and innovation, says EURAB.

The paper makes recommendations relating to the profile of RTOs, EU policies, comprehension of RTOs within the Commission, and operational independence, which EURAB believes, if followed, will enable them to make a valuable contribution to the European Research Area (ERA).

The profile of RTOs could be raised through the organisation of two policy conferences, suggests EURAB. One should present the role of RTOs in European R&D, while the other should promote closer cooperation between RTOs and universities. EURAB recommends that the first conference is organised as an EU Presidency event so that it attracts attention from policy makers.

The recommendations on EU ERA policies, programmes and instruments are born out of the belief that RTOs' mission-oriented research does not fit comfortably with current policies (the open method of coordination); programmes (Articles 169 and 171, ERA-NET); or projects (Networks of Excellence, Integrated Projects).

Suggestions for improvements include adapting the ERA-NET scheme so that the definition of 'research activities' is relevant for RTOs, and broadening the concept of the infrastructures programme proposed for the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) so that it encompasses mission-oriented RTOs as whole organisations.

EURAB believes that the visibility of RTOs needs to be raised within the European Commission, and that this could be done through the establishment of an 'RTO Observatory'. The body would monitor the development of RTOs in order to ensure that their needs are fully understood and addressed in the formulation of policies.

Finally, EURAB notes that while RTOs are partially funded by governments, and are therefore accountable to governments, they require operational independence. Such independence is crucial for efficient operation, impartiality of research and advice, and adaptability, states the paper. A suitable governance model might be an 'arms-length' or 'agency' model, it continues.

EURAB concludes with the claim that 'RTOs are unable to contribute as fully as they might to the realisation of ERA', and the assertion that more harmonisation between the instruments intended to support the creation of the ERA and the mission-orientation of RTOs would facilitate more mission-oriented networking among RTOs.

Full text of the report

CORDIS RTD-NEWS/© European Communities, 2005
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