New report assesses difficulties for small countries in carrying out R&D

March 20, 2002

Brussels, 19 March 2002

'The biggest and the most difficult challenge which the smaller countries face in S&T [science and technology] is finding a balance between their needs and constraints in human capital and funding,' claims a new report on 'Research strategies for smaller countries,' prepared by an ALLEA (All European academies) working group.

The main aim of the report, which was discussed and approved at the ALLEA general assembly in Rome on 13 to 15 March, is to describe models and strategies to facilitate the formation of national strategies, especially for small countries. In addition to a chapter on 'big science for small countries', the report includes summaries of national strategies, strengths and weaknesses in Austria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Ireland, Latvia, Portugal and Slovenia.

In the report, the ALLEA working group claims that it is more difficult for smaller countries to find answers to questions such as 'why conduct research?', 'how much research can a country afford?' and 'to what extent should research be controlled?' Smaller countries share a number of disadvantages in comparison with their larger neighbours, such as limited human resources, limited funding, difficulties in setting priorities and a small base for direct innovation, according to the report. Efforts to mirror the funding percentages and structures of larger, successful countries are unlikely to have the desired effect on account of the critical mass and scale.

Instead, the working group suggests that 'strategically capitalising on national and international strength and international opportunities in an optimal way should make it possible to enrich both the national identities of smaller countries and the larger community as a whole.' The report also claims that if a successful European research area (ERA) is to be created, as the Commission is proposing, research capabilities must first be built up within individual countries as 'only by strengthening the research potential at a national level can the goals of a European research area be realised to their full potential.'

The report also suggests that 'remarkable scientific potential in small countries [...] especially in the CEEC [Central and East European countries] is not properly mapped,' and recommends further attention be devoted to mapping centres of excellence and benchmarking as 'it means actually finding the strengths and then concentrating upon them.'

The report highlights several successful strategies which smaller European countries have adopted in order to raise their profile on the R&D (research and development) stage. Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands and Estonia have all used long term continuous evaluation exercises and critical peer review to assess all results and applications. Finland and Ireland have special funds for innovation. Norway has an S&T levy on certain industries. Norway, Austria, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic carry out technology assessment by special boards or institutes. Finland, Sweden, Austria and Israel have created centres of excellence in research. Sweden, Finland, Austria, Slovakia, Estonia and Ireland provide incentives for young scientists. Portugal, Israel and Sweden fund programmes for the betterment of material infrastructure and Ireland allocates funding to the public awareness of R&D.

Perhaps one of the best examples for several smaller European countries is that of Finland, a country of around five million inhabitants which made the transition from a largely rural to an advanced industrial country which often tops benchmarking studies in the period since 1945. An active science policy was initiated in the late 1960s with the aim of increasing economic growth and improving quality of life. Catching up was also recognised as a central goal to this new policy, later to be followed by the goal of promoting research in high-tech fields and creating a 'knowledge based society'. While the percentage of GDP channelled towards R&D in 1969 was only 0.8 per cent in Finland, this figure had climbed to 3.1 per cent by 1999.

'If a country realises the importance of science and technology for creating [...] future welfare, and formulates clear and successive research strategy, then the situation can be changed,' states the report.

To access the full report, please consult the following web address: http://www.akadeemia.ee/eng/ALLEA-FINAL .pdf

CORDIS RTD-NEWS/© European Communities, 2001

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