ECONOMY

Bill aspires to redress R&D deficit

The government will soon be submitting a bill overhauling the framework for the assessment and funding of research and technology (R&D), sources say. The document, prepared by the National Research and Technology Council (ESET) and later processed by a ministerial committee for about a year, provides that the evaluation of the new system will be exclusively undertaken by foreign specialists in the first five years, with a view to introducing know-how and averting mismanagement and corruption. It also envisages the operation of four independent bodies, including ESET, which will set the strategy, evaluate research centers and proposals, and manage funds. The bill introduces for the first time the funding, mainly from national sources, of basic research in sectors ranging from the humanities to mathematics and information technology. This will make possible the funding of independent scientists without them being necessarily affiliated with firms or research centers. Officials argue that this will improve the utilization of human resources and promote basic research as a field of professional and scientific accomplishment. Finally, the bill provides for annual evaluation of scientific establishments and clearly defines their relations with universities. The criteria used in such an evaluation will include their funding from all sources and the results of the programs they implement. The new model is aimed at giving an effective boost to research in Greece and limiting the extensive corruption in the management of lucrative European Union subsidies. Greek R&D spending today represents just 0.65 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) and, according to the EU’s so-called Lisbon strategy, it must rise to about 1.5 percent by 2010. Hundreds of millions of euros have been spent in the last 20 years without any substantial impact on the Greek economy, as attested by the rare appearance of innovative products or services. In theory, Greece has 3,500 researchers, 13 large research centers and 52 smaller research institutes, but still lags in the efficiency of its research compared to France, for instance, where the number of researchers is smaller. A characteristic example of mismanagement is the recent finding that about half of the 90 projects which had been approved for funding of enterprises under the Industrial Research Development Program (PAVE) during the previous government had exactly the same title as projects already completed under previous funding. And 15 of the approved proposals were exactly the same. The bill further includes ESET’s proposals on ways of assessing research programs, relations between universities and research centers, and the administration and staffing of research centers. It also includes provisions on international cooperation schemes in research, incentives for the repatriation of Greek scientists from abroad, and Greece’s participation in European R&D organizations. «The strategy in funding research in Western countries has changed,» government officials say. «Today, the theorem ‘Anything that can be researched must be researched’ has given way to ‘Research must deal with anything that is useful to research’.» Essentially, funds must be channeled into sectors and projects leading to tangible results for citizens and the economy. ESET’s goals reflect this philosophy and are reflected in the bill. Its stated goals include the boosting of knowledge and innovation in sectors of national priority for the economy and social welfare, the creation of opportunities in technology and the improvement of the competitiveness of enterprises. For instance, the bill provides for up to 100 percent financial support to enterprises conducting small but substantial research projects. It also proposes measures (with 50 percent subsidies) for the networking of firms, universities and research centers. ESET considers it necessary to introduce programs lasting three to four years in fields of national priority, and of projects with the participation of the final users. Four independent bodies Besides ESET, an independent and consultative body which will be reporting directly to prime minister, there will be an R&D ministerial committee that will set policy, and the National Research and Technology Organization (EOET), which will manage the programs. The fourth body will be the General Inspectorate Bureau, which will provide legal advice to EOET and will exercise control over contracts and decisions with a view to averting financial irregularities. The four bodies will be independent of each other but still play complementary role. ESET will recommend R&D projects to the ministerial committee and will have a consultative role in the formulation of national policy. EOET will have two independent sections (on the basis of international experience, mainly from the US, the Netherlands and Finland), one for applied and one for basic research. European Union According to Eurostat, more than 51 million scientists worked in research programs in the European Union in 2004. This number corresponds to 30 percent of the professionally active population aged 25-64. Of the 51 million, 57 percent were trained in science and technology. Luxembourg and Sweden have the highest rate (36 percent). Greece has 22 percent, trailed by Malta and Portugal with 20 percent and 16 percent respectively.