Public spending on R&D should be more tied to calls for research proposals and there should be a national strategy on prioritising certain areas, Vincent Hein suggested.
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Public research spending must be better prioritised, says Idea
Public research and development spending has significantly increased over the past two decades, and the creation of the University of Luxembourg and of public research centres have changed the landscape in the grand duchy, but now was the time to consolidate and focus, said Vincent Hein of Idea Foundation.
While Luxembourg still spends less than the objectives set by the EU’s Horizon 2020 (0.64% of GDP), Luxembourg has been catching up over the past 15 years and is now close to the European average. The state is the principal actor and drives R&D, both in the public and to a lesser extent in the private sector.
Staff at both the university and research centres has been multiplied by 7 and reaches now 2.630 employees. 92% of university personnel are researchers, while the figure goes down to 60% in public research centres.
The number of scientific publications has increased to over 2,000 annually. Between 2014-2016, most publications concerned the areas of IT (16.3%), medicine (12.7%), mathematics (8.5%), engineering (9.3%), molecular/genetic biochemistry (7%), and social sciences (6.3%), which is in line with the main research areas. Impact indicators are high for medicine, engineering sciences, molecular/genetic biochemistry, agriculture/biological sciences and microbiology/immunology.
Most publications are authored with one or more international co-authors.
Hein found that public R&D financing was still largely non-competitive, and constituted block grants, which are in line with long-term planning. Calls for research proposals for more short-term projects represented 26.5% of public investment in R&D between 2012 and 2016; these are subject to performance contracts.
Challenges: coherence and PPPs
In 2006, the FNR (National Research Fund) set down the 5 priority areas: innovation in services, sustainable resource management in Luxembourg, new materials and functional surfaces, biomedical sciences and health, and societal challenges.
The report found a lack of a national strategy on priorities for research. There are also misalignments between public research centres and the university, who should increase their cooperation. The FNR’s priorities does not cover certain strong areas of research from the university, such as mathematics or law. Furthermore, private R&D is covered by the ministry of economy, while public research is under the authority of the ministry of higher education and research. The grand duchy should find its niche and try to build a critical mass for international poles of excellence.
Public-private partnerships (PPP) are still rare in Luxembourg and constitute an opportunity, the think tank report stated. Because R&D has not been well developed until recently, there is certainly room for more cooperation, Hein noted.