European research set to improve under ERA, but more business involvement still needed, says OECD representative

May 22, 2002

Brussels, 21 May 2002

The structure proposed for the next Framework programme of European research (FP6), incorporating the European research area (ERA), will benefit European research but the most important element should be to turn research results into productivity and economic benefits, according to Dr Daniel Malkin, Head of the OECD's (Organisation for economic cooperation and development) science and technology policy division.

Speaking exclusively to CORDIS News, Dr Malkin said that the priorities of the next Framework programme addresses key areas, such as biotechnology and genomics, nanotechnology and information society technologies, where there is a gap between Europe and its main competitors, the USA and Japan. He highlighted that just carrying out research in these areas will not be enough. 'The SME [small and medium sized enterprise] question is an important one as there is a lag in taking these from start ups and spin offs, although this is easier said than done, as it requires a regulatory framework,' he said.

The OECD has looked into the area of R&D (research and development) and employment creation and has proved that the two are linked. 'Very often there is cooperation in scientific enterprise that helps knowledge and has commercial results. This needs to involve governments and scientific establishments. Increasingly, scientists realise that there has to be some social responsibility and accountability to make this work relevant, to help society at large,' says Dr Malkin. 'The benefit of this should be in productivity. There are scientific ventures that fall in the crack because there is not enough interest from business. But this is why keeping public/private activities together is a good idea.'

One of the major impulses that should be given to help ensure that business and research can work together is the finalisation of the Community patent, says Dr Malkin. Without this, innovative processes taking research to market could be stifled.

As for the structure of FP6, researchers will benefit from the contract changes, according to Dr Malkin. 'There will be more autonomy, less nitpicking and this is beneficial because if researchers get bogged down in too much bureaucracy, they lose interest.' He also feels that the overall structure of the programme may influence some of the EU's Member States to review their own national research infrastructures, as some of them are 'old and rigid'.

The ERA is nothing new in one respect, Dr Malkin says. 'Networking is the name of the game at the moment, but we should not forget that one of the activities that has been globalised since the Middle Ages is scientific activity,' he says. He also questioned whether the potential elimination of duplication of scientific research brought about by more networking is necessarily a good thing. 'Duplication can be seen as a dirty word, but it can almost be seen as normal to have competition between teams in different countries or even in the same country.'

He also challenged the concept of being able to work clearly towards the creation of the most competitive knowledge-based society in Europe, as set out at the Lisbon summit in 2000. Hungary, he said, has a very high level of knowledge, but is not competitive, so it is not just about fostering knowledge. Targeting a three per cent of GDP allocation for research spending could also prove to be difficult, as spending the money means having the necessary research personnel to execute the work. At the moment, the main difficulty is finding the personnel, rather than spending limits, he suggests.

One way to address this problem is to tackle the issue of science and society. If more people are interested in science, it will be easier to fill the posts and there will be more public support for the work involved. Dr Malkin agrees that greater effort is needed by both the scientific community and the general public to try to understand each other's standpoint. But one of the most effective tools, he says, is to improve the basic level of education of science.

'One of the major actions that has to be taken is stronger emphasis on lower grade level science education...The business community should also be involved, as this is in its own interests. It is a long term action, but I would put the premium on education, as there is a general lack of interest. Some countries have addressed this, such as Finland, but it needs to be addressed from lots of angles. For example, governments need to influence the media to have more information on science in public networks,' he said.

For further information on the OECD, please consult the following web address:

CORDIS RTD-NEWS/© European Communities, 2001

Register to continue

Why register?

  • Registration is free and only takes a moment
  • Once registered, you can read 3 articles a month
  • Sign up for our newsletter
Please Login or Register to read this article.