PEN looks at the TEAMING instrument, focusing in one of the projects to receive funding under the WIDESPREAD-1-2014 call, CAMART2.
IN 2015, the European Commission announced it would be providing new grants to help bridge the research excellence gap between member states and strengthen competitiveness and growth across Europe. This was to be done via the new Teaming instrument, which was designed to help improve research performance and increase investment in countries with lower research excellence rankings.
With funding from Horizon 2020, 31 projects from such countries were selected to prepare operational plans for new centres of excellence by teaming up with high-calibre institutions from all over Europe. The first Teaming projects selected for funding were led by research institutions or agencies as well as national or regional authorities, and phase one of this action saw projects receive up to €500,000 each (€14.5m in total) to prepare operational plans for new centres of excellence or for upgrading existing ones.
Speaking at the time, European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation Carlos Moedas said: “Put simply, we want Horizon 2020 funds to benefit as wide a range of European universities and research institutes as possible. We are determined to see that no part of Europe is left behind in research and innovation. Teaming now helps to achieve this by creating partnerships between those at the top and those with the most potential. Horizon 2020 rewards excellence and, most importantly, the pursuit of excellence.”
In phase two, up to ten of these projects could then be selected for further support to implement the centre, following a competitive review process. The funding for the first step proposals (31 selected out of 169 submitted) reached €14.5m and around €87m was, in 2015, foreseen for phase two.
Under Horizon 2020, the commission has said, a strong packet of measures with up to €800m was made available for widening participation of low-research performing member states. Such actions include Teaming, Twinning (institutional networking that includes support on staff exchanges, expert advice and assistance), as well as special awards like the new ERA Chairs instrument.
Outlining the ‘WIDESPREAD-1-2014’ Teaming topic, the Commission has explained that ‘Despite its strengths, the European Research and Innovation landscape presents a lot of structural disparities, with research and innovation excellence concentrated in a few geographical zones. These disparities are due to, among other reasons, the insufficient critical mass of science and centres having sufficient competence to engage countries and regions strategically in a path of innovative growth, building on newly developed capabilities. This could help countries and regions that are lagging behind in terms of research and innovation performance reclaim their competitive position in the global value chains. Teaming will address this challenge by creating or upgrading such centres of excellence, building on partnerships between leading scientific institutions and low performing partners that display the willingness to engage together for this purpose.’
The WIDESPREAD-1-2014 call therefore looked for projects able to lead to the creation of new (or significant upgrades of existing) centres of excellence in member states and regions currently identified as low performers in terms of research and innovation, increasing on the one hand their scientific capabilities and on the other, enabling them to engage in a strategic growth path in terms of economic development. It is also expected that improved scientific capabilities will allow them to improve their chances to seek competitive funding in international for a (including the EU framework programmes).
‘Over the medium to long term there will be a measurable and significant improvement in the research and innovation culture (as shown through indicators such as research intensity, innovation performance, enhanced strategy, values and attitudes towards research and innovation) within member states currently with low R&I performance. These will be fostered through constructive and sustainable partnerships achieved between research and innovation-intensive institutions of excellence and the partnering organisation in the low performing member state or region. Benefits will also accrue to the institutions from the more intensive research and innovation performers, in terms of issues such as access to new research avenues, creativity and the development of new approaches, as well as a source for increased mobility (inwards and outwards) of qualified scientists.’
Crossing the divide
In November 2016, during the conference ‘Spreading Excellence and Crossing the Innovation Divide’ organised by the European Commission in Brussels, Commissioner Moedas, together with the Director-General of the Directorate-General for Research and Innovation, Robert-Jan Smits, announced the winners of the WIDESPREAD 1-2014: Teaming competition.
At the event, Moedas argued that “one of the major political and economic challenges all countries are facing today is growing inequalities,” adding that a lack of diffusion of knowledge and technologies is the cause. “The new digital technologies are not diffusing. The knowledge is trapped in businesses that are investing in innovation. This lack of diffusion feeds inequality, which has a huge cost for all of us. It translates into wasted resources, wasted talent and wasted potential,” he said. “Research and innovation is key to overcoming these gaps. We need to feed the pipeline of talent and ideas and help them diffuse far and wide. Ensuring excellence is present in all EU member states. Encouraging openness so that knowledge, ideas and people will flow.”
For Moedas, the answer as to why some countries get more impact from their spending on research than other countries (and he was referring to both scientific and economic impact) lies in the national research and innovation systems: “They vary widely. So one of the first challenges for countries with low levels of excellence is to introduce reforms to their systems. This is never easy. It requires a good diagnosis of the system. It requires a process to reach agreement between the different actors. And it requires expertise and persistence to implement reforms.
“Then, of course, there is the varying degree of investment. But the newer member states have been given a big opportunity to build excellence. The European Structural and Investment Funds are putting €100bn into research and innovation. But to make sure these resources actually translate into progress, countries will need to connect the islands of excellence and network internationally.
“And perhaps most important of all, countries need to attract talent. The best researchers and innovators are internationally mobile. If countries are not able to offer attractive opportunities, the most talented will leave,” the commissioner concluded.
After discussing the role of Horizon 2020, Moedas then outlined his intention to “beef up and optimise investments in excellence.” He said: “Teaming actions have had an enormous impact, supporting the creation of new or upgraded centres of excellence in widening countries.
One of the ten projects to receive funding through the WIDESPREAD 1-2014: Teaming competition was CAMART2, the biggest project in the history of Latvian science to date. This was launched at a ceremony attended by representatives of the European Commission, Latvian government officials, foreign co-operation partners and guests, as well as the orchestrators of the project, i.e. the employees of the Institute of Solid State Physics. The objective of the project is to strengthen the position of both the institute and the Latvian state within the European science sector through the development of the centre into a regional institution of European renown in the field of materials science and technology transfer.
Speaking at the launch, Robert-Jan Smits said: “The only way Europe can compete with the rest of the world is to be smarter than others and to prove itself in the field of innovation. This means that investments must be made in education, science and innovation development. Such investments must be made at national level, at regional level, and, of course, also at international level within the European Union. We are delighted to see that, in the face of stiff competition, this major project has been awarded not only Horizon 2020 funding, but has also received support from the Latvian government.
“The strengths of the CAMART2 project are the high qualifications of the scientists involved and a strong plan for how to pass on this knowledge and experience, and how to encourage mutual collaboration between the academic and business sectors. This project has all the characteristics required to make it an exemplar: high level science, potential for innovation, the business sector, new enterprises, and powerful partnerships, as well as a convincing management structure, which is absolutely vital for a project of this scale.”
The project will facilitate the formation of a more comprehensive innovation and technology transfer ecosystem in the realm of research into modern materials and the use of such materials in innovative products, thus paving the way for the launch of new advanced technology and high added value manufacturing companies – an effort which epitomises the ends for which Teaming was established.