LONDON Researchers, industries and the economies of both new and old EU Member States would benefit if the borders surrounding national research funding were effectively brought down according to the ALIPRO project.
This IST-funded initiative focused on encouraging the integration of research programmes dealing with mobile technologies in new and old Member States and candidate countries. Its findings and recommendations, however, are broadly applicable to the entire information communication technology (ICT) research domain.
“What we saw is that the majority of new Member States and accession countries do not have research programmes that are fully open to outsiders,” said Jan Kaczmarek, ALIPRO project manager.
“On paper, foreign researchers can participate but without funding, and so they must provide funding themselves. Therefore, international cooperation within these programmes, though theoretically possible, is pretty much discouraged. On top of that there are language barriers, fears from policy-makers about really opening their programmes out of the belief that national research programmes should follow national interests in the first place, and the impact of opening up of national research programmes on the national research and economy is difficult to anticipate.”
But instead of looking inward policy-makers should be looking outward, Kaczmarek says, allowing their research institutes, industries and their national economies to benefit from foreign expertise. That would also increase the competitiveness of Europe as a whole.
“The exchange of know how that cross-border cooperation permits should be encouraged as it benefits all actors involved,” said Kaczmarek.
Across Europe, national programmes provide seven times more money for research than EU programmes, but there are enormous disparities between them. The funding offered in the German region of Bavaria for ICT research is 34 times that provided in the whole of Bulgaria, for instance, while in Eastern Europe there are only two programmes – in Hungary and the Czech Republic – that are specifically targeted at researching mobile technologies.
Despite the evident barriers that exist to cross-border cooperation, ALIPRO did find some bright spots. “There is a research programme in Cyprus that shows the best practice we have found. It promotes the incorporation of foreign researchers and institutions. Another in Slovenia encourages the participation of foreign PhD students,” Kaczmarek noted.
The ALIPRO partners believe such programmes could sow the seeds for more widespread integration of ICT research across Europe so long as policy-makers can be convinced about the benefits.
“Full integration will initially start on a small scale, involving just a few countries, and then grow from there,” the project manager said. “By 2014 it is probable that some countries will have fully integrated research programmes, although I doubt all of Europe will have achieved that degree of alignment by then. Much more work is needed.”