The conference took place one week after the Guild had published a position paper on supporting excellence across Europe in FP9 on 7 March. In Ljubljana, speakers and participants examined the current framework context (Horizon 2020) where the research and innovation (R&I) gap has grown across Europe despite the measures that were embedded to foster full participation.
Policymakers, researchers and other R&I stakeholders from different parts of the EU and Western Balkan countries discussed the national and EU policies that hinder collaboration and funding. They also presented ways to overcome these obstacles; for instance, by allocating more Structural Funds to R&I, and aligning their purpose, rules, and processes with those of FP9, and other funding frameworks.
Members of the Slovenian Ministry of Education, Science and Sport, and the country’s Research Agency also described state efforts to support researchers. One programme, for example, assists European Research Council (ERC) top-level applicants who did not succeed initially. Four out of Slovenia’s five ERC current grantees received support through this programme. EU-13 commitments to invest in research development and reform domestic governance barriers are crucial to reducing the participation gap.
Yet, states alone cannot improve participation across Europe or stop the ‘brain drain’. EU perceptions and practices also need to evolve. Speaking of ‘lower-performing regions’ does not capture the difference in success rates – Estonia, Slovenia, and Cyprus have been very successful in Horizon 2020. The Widening Participation and Spreading Excellence actions are yielding important results that will help us analyse what works and what doesn’t, and the conditions that affect positive and negative outcomes. Based on this information, policymakers can develop the instruments to make them more effective.
Creating inclusive R&I communities throughout Europe will benefit all its societies. As the Guild has consistently underscored: closing the research and innovation gap is a precondition for regional growth and to reduce the inequalities that have led to elevated social and political tensions in recent years. Throughout Europe, there exists untapped talent and underused research infrastructures paid for by Structural Funds. High-quality and competitive science is best achieved when great minds can develop and connect with each other, and when the ‘spreading excellence’ narrative is replaced by one that focuses on collaboration and the flow of ideas in all directions.