2019 EC-OECD STIP Survey: Human resources for research and innovation policy area


  1. Key messages
  2. Main national policy debates
  3. Snapshot of policy initiative data
  4. Annex A: Raw data for national policy debates

1. Highlights

Two recurrent topics discussed in national policy debates are the need to make research careers more appealing and attracting talent from abroad. Countries also often debate how well their tertiary education systems convey the skills most needed in labour markets, particularly as digital technologies increasingly determine firm competitiveness.
International mobility of human resources and doctoral and postdoctoral research are the themes most frequently addressed by policy initiatives.
More policies target individual actors in the public research system (e.g. postdocs and other early-career researchers), compared to institutional actors (i.e. public research organisations).
The largest set of policies are small scale initiatives (less than 1M EUR yearly budget expenditure) of various kinds, including scholarships, grants and awards and public outreach campaigns that promote STEM studies and research careers.
Policies with the largest budgets include institutional funding schemes addressed to higher education institutes that bundle financial support for public research with support for teaching activities.

2. Main national policy debates

As part of the 2019 EC-OECD STIP survey, countries described their main policy debates around government support to Human resources for research and innovation (see Annex A for the raw data). These responses can be clustered around a number of salient issues, described below.

About a third of participating countries stressed the need to increase the attractiveness of research careers, both in the public research system and in the private sector. Latvia, Ireland and Japan (to name a few) aim to create the necessary conditions for researchers to foresee a stable career path in the future. Some countries identify shortages in human resources to fill in vacancies in universities and public research institutes. Argentina and Portugal, for example, report difficulties in replacing ageing academic staff. More frequently, however countries indicate that the lack of long term job opportunities harms the appeal of research careers. Denmark, for instance, identifies an excess of postdoctoral positions against tenure-track programmes. France seeks to revive permanent scientific employment by stabilizing the number of statutory jobs. In the United Kingdom, an ongoing debate is how to balance the flexibility of short-term contracts with individuals’ desire for stability. Other countries highlight the need of revising criteria for evaluating researchers as a means to improve career appeal. The European Union is devoting efforts to make recruitments in its research labour market more transparent, open and merit-based. Spain recently established general criteria to standardise professional categories in the public research system and redefine the compensation regime according to merits. Estonia is revising academic staff evaluation systems to value a wider set of career elements of researchers (research, teaching, consultancy and contractual work outside the university and self-development).

Attracting foreign talent for the private sector is another recurrent issue of debate, also raised by about 1/3 participating countries. Some countries identify shortages of researchers and technology professionals as a major obstacle for the growth of high-tech companies. In Canada, for example, this issue is addressed by the Global Skills Strategy, which aims to help firms recruit the highly-trained foreign talent they need to scale-up and grow. Israel is also ramping up resources to attract foreign professionals, which is recognised as an important bottleneck for the growth of its high-tech sector.

Various countries aim to stop and reverse the so-called "brain drain", i.e. the emigration of highly trained or qualified people. Lithuania, for instance, indicates this to be a main obstacle for its goal of strengthening human resources for research and innovation. Greece has secured dedicated funds to support domestic research and thereby dissuade its nationals to seek opportunities abroad. The country also devotes efforts monitor its highly skilled diaspora, particularly to facilitate cross-border networking and exchange of know-how. New Zealand is aiming to strike a balance in resources devoted to, on one hand, avoiding local talent from going overseas (e.g. with postdoctoral support) and, on the other, attracting foreign talent with unique skills.

When it comes to strengthening human resources for research and innovation, as in previous editions of the EC-OECD STIP survey several countries emphasise science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills. Shortages in these skills are reported in Belgium (Brussels, Walloon and Flemish authorities), Iceland, Sweden and the United Kingdom. In Australia, there have been competing narratives in recent years concerning the oversupply of STEM graduates in some fields and shortages in others. Skills for information and communication technologies (ICT) are perceived to be critically scarce. In this regard, an emerging issue in the 2019 edition of the STIP survey concerns skills for digital technologies. Sweden and South Africa, for example, also see strengthening digital skills as an essential requirement to maintain the competitiveness of their national workforce. Germany is introducing a large number of new measures in the area of digitalisation and automation, including support for SMEs in their transformation to the digital economy. Portugal sees digital skills as an area requiring additional investment to unblock productivity gains in the business sector.

With regards to modalities to build human capital for research activities, the onus is often placed on postgraduate education. Latvia, Ireland, Japan and Hungary (among other countries) highlight the role of master's and doctoral degrees to meet the needs of the academic and industrial sectors. One of Portugal's priorities is to reinforce funding for PhD fellowships to levels similar to those observed in the European Union. Many countries recognise the growing importance of lifelong learning and vocational training. In Finland, lifelong learning is seen as one of the main pathways towards increasing and maintaining a highly skilled workforce. One of the four pillars in Thailand's national strategy for human resources is creating programs to re-skill and up-skill the workforce to address industries driven by science and innovation, in the forms of short courses and curricula opened to full-time employees. This type of education is particularly relevant to nurturing digital skills in the workforce. As digital technologies permeate economies at a fast pace, the needs for skills in businesses change accordingly, thereby requiring upskilling broad sections of the population. Most of Germany's initiatives supporting digital skills, for example, are provided through vocational training.

Several countries point to gender balance and social inclusion as key issues to effectively address shortages in skills. Australia and Belgium (Brussels and Wallon authorities) seek to strengthen the participation of women in STEM areas, whereas Denmark, Norway, Spain and Japan highlight the need to support female researchers in the public research system. The Slovak Republic, the United Kingdom and Canada seek to improve the diversity and inclusion of disadvantaged and under-represented groups in the research and innovation system. Sweden and Portugal share the common goal of widening access to higher education across less densely geographic areas, as a means to improve social inclusion.

Countries often question how well matched are the supply and demand of skills, while highlighting schemes that support the employment of tertiary education graduates and researchers in the private sector. Chile and Colombia, for example, emphasise their programmes helping the insertion of PhDs in companies and public entities. Hungary recently introduced “dual education” bachelor programmes that promote the collaboration between universities and industrial partners to provide students with formal opportunities to gain practice-based know-how, work experience and academic knowledge. Other countries, including Australia, Spain, Finland, Ireland and Estonia, stress the need to promote the science-industry mobility of established researchers.

3. Snapshot of policy initiative data

Figure 1 shows the number of policy initiatives reported within the themes belonging to the Human resources for research and innovation policy area. By large the most recurrent theme is International mobility of human resources, covering the reform of rules governing public sector employment and researcher recruitment rules, together with various mobility incentives targeted at researchers and companies. Doctoral and postdoctoral researchers, the second most frequently addressed theme, includes dedicated support to postgraduate programmes and rules and schemes for their evaluation, support to industry involvement in PhD training schemes and reform of academic curricula, among other forms of support. This theme is followed by STEM skills, which also includes the revision of academic curricula (across various levels of education) and the introduction of new learning practices and new instructional tools, among other types of initiatives fostering STEM education. The fourth most recurring theme, Research careers, refers to the creation of new job opportunities in public research institutes (PRIs) and higher education institutes (HEIs), improved financial rewards and non-financial incentives, and other forms of support for researchers.

Bokeh Plot

Policies targeting individual actors are more numerous compared to those targeting institutional actors. The target group with the largest number of policies is Post-docs and other early-career researches (Figure 2). The keywords (obtained when hovering the corresponding bar with the mouse), suggest that initiatives are often research-oriented, provide support for training and fellowships and promote brain circulation. Similar policies are directed to PhD students, with an additional emphasis towards identifying and promoting new talents. Initiatives also target Established researchers, placing added focus on supporting career development through funding for research projects and fellowships. The figure also shows that large numbers for policies are directed at institutional actors, i.e. Higher education institutes and Public research institutes, to support their efforts in developing human resources for research and innovation. It is worth noting that gender balance is a recurrent topic across both institutional and individual actors. This is also reflected by the fact that several policies have Women as a target group, with keywords indicating support for training, emphasis on female researchers, an the promotion of talent and inclusion, e.g. in science and innovation councils. Governments not only centre efforts in the public sector, but also address Firms to support the development of human resources for research and innovation in the private sector.

Bokeh Plot