The AERG welcomes the EU Pact for Research and Innovation in Europe. We particularly welcome the suggested 3% GDP target for European spend on research and development.
However, the Pact needs to do more to support the vital role of basic research and bottom-up, researcher-led science in European economy and society for successful innovations and applications.
The Pact lumps together bottom-up, curiosity-driven research with innovation and application. The AERG views this as a fundamental policy mistake, which has consistently led to disappointing returns on public research and innovation investment. Bottom-up research is a necessary precondition for successful innovation, but is a distinct process from innovation, and needs its own dedicated support.
Bottom-up curiosity-driven research generates the new knowledge and breakthrough ideas that become the innovations and applications of tomorrow. To do this, bottom-up research needs an environment based on excellence and strong scientific and social values, a culture that combines intellectual freedom and international collaboration, and proper resourcing that allows researchers to become a mind-bank for Europe. European and national funding too often favours top-down, topicbased models, and gives insufficient weight to supporting individual researchers in generating and testing new ideas. This also means that innovation cannot be part of the excellence criteria for research. Instead, innovation is the natural consequence of excellent bottom-up research at scale.
The PACT should explicitly acknowledge and support the foundational role of bottom-up research in underpinning innovation. Further, the Pact should state that bottom-up, curiosity-driven research has equal priority with programmatic research for funding within the 3% target. Member-states should therefore allocate at least 50% of their support under the Pact to basic, bottom-up research, in order to drive successful innovation.
The Pact fails to recognize the key role of Europe’s research-intensive universities and institutes in the ERA. Our leading universities and research institutes should be funded as breeding-grounds of scientific excellence, which can form future researchers and innovators. We endorse the focus on transformation of universities, but this should be based on promoting and enhancing research excellence, and on giving researchers environments where their best ideas can flourish.
The AERG welcomes the Pact’s attention to the societal and values aspects of research and innovation, including the principles of gender equality and wider participation in academic careers. Europe must invest in its researchers, particularly its younger researchers, to guarantee the flow of knowledge and ideas that underpins economic competitiveness and societal cohesion.
AERG, July 23rd, 2021