2019 EC-OECD STIP Survey: Public research system 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

Countries often use national R&D investment indicators, targets and benchmarks to contextualise the performance of their public research system. Policy debates frequently focus on how the funding is attributed, e.g. block funding criteria, share of competitive vs. block funding and the share of basic vs. applied research.
The largest numbers of policies support the internationalisation in public research as well as competitive research funding.
Policy initiatives indicate public research organisations as beneficiaries with slightly more frequency compared to individual researchers.
Initiatives often stress the importance of making the results of publicly funded research openly accessible, i.e. by promoting open science and enhanced access to research data.
Policies with the largest budgets are typically institutional funding programmes that include support not only for R&D investment but also for teaching activities.

2. Main national policy debates

As part of their response to the 2019 EC-OECD STIP survey, countries indicated the main policy debates around government support to their Public research systems (raw data included below in Annex A). The following issues were recurrently raised in national debates:

Several countries highlight R&D intensity targets as indicators used to gauge the state or progress of their public research systems. Austria, for example, highlights its national gross expenditures in R&D (GERD) amounting to 3.19% of GDP in 2019 and how this figure exceeds the European target value (3% of GDP). Belgium (Flanders and Wallonia) and Estonia aim to raise public R&D spending to 1% of GDP by 2020 and 2022, respectively. Greece and Malta have set GERD targets of 1.3% and 2% of GDP by 2020, respectively. The United Kingdom and Finland have set higher GERD targets though under a longer timeframe, i.e. 2.7% of GDP by 2027 and 4% of GDP by 2030, respectively.

A central topic of debate concerns the criteria used to allocate public research funding. Countries often debate how funds are attributed using formulas that include performance metrics (e.g. publications, citations, PhD graduates, patents filed). For example Iceland, where funding for Higher Education Institutes (HEIs) is mostly based on student numbers, recognises the need to revise its model to include additional variables. Sweden, where institutional funding is currently calculated based on historical allocations (70%) and the quantity and quality in research and the degree of cooperation with industry and society at large (30%), is creating an indicator system to improve its methodology.

Some countries have sought to broaden funding allocation beyond performance-based criteria. The Czech Republic, for instance, now considers institutions' long-term strategy development and socio-economic benefits and impacts. The Netherlands seeks to ensure that the recognition and rewards system better reflects the core tasks of public research organisations (e.g. education, research and impact) so that the appreciation academics receive is better aligned with societal needs. Concerning the European Union's funding mechanisms, an area of debate is whether current evaluation and allocation mechanisms based on bibliometrics and peer review are fair.

In some instances, discussions on funding allocation raise the issue of striking a balance between block and competitive funding. For example, Korea (where the rate of project-based funding ranges between 30-60%) is considering to increase the block funding ratio as a means to shape the roles and responsibilities of Public Research Institutes (PRIs). In 2018 Norway increased block funding of the technological institutes in its revised long-term plan research and higher education, a decision that has materialised in the national budget for both 2019 and 2020. Portugal highlights calls to increase the share of block funding attributed to the research organisations, as a means to fund new government-led policy initiatives, e.g. a new scientific employment legal framework, which improves the employment conditions of non-permanent researchers leading to an increase in the cost of research personnel. If the block funding were to remain unchanged, universities will have to factor the new cost structure into the competitive funding that they are able to capture.

Another dichotomy frequently raised in national debates is whether to fund basic or applied research. The Slovak Republic and Czech Republic, for instance, identify a need to strengthen applied research. Countries such as Brazil, Canada, Italy and Japan raise the need to conduct research that can be readily used by industry (see Science-industry knowledge transfer and sharing). The European Union stresses the need to balance supporting two different kinds of research: (i) research based on predetermined top-down priorities (i.e. close to market and applied research) evaluated on the basis of impact; versus (ii) bottom-up basic research evaluated on the basis of excellence. In New Zealand, while there are arguments that it is more difficult to make a funding case for basic or ‘blue skies’ research due to it being harder to justify end-user benefits, this kind of research is deemed critical for driving innovation through expanding the scientific knowledge base.

Other countries underline the importance of leveraging research infrastructures. China, for example, seeks to promote the open sharing of large-scale scientific instruments and facilities composing the national S&T infrastructure, to serve STI actors, the economy and society as a whole. South Africa also recognises the need for systematic efforts to upgrade and expand research infrastructures. Australia cites how its 2018 Research Infrastructure Investment Plan is informing investment into platforms necessary for collaborative research in a variety of fields including high performance computing, health sciences, and earth and environmental systems. In Iceland, more effective investment in research infrastructures, including international infrastructures was one of the actions in the National Science Policy and Action Plan during 2017-2019. Canada has seen discussions on the appropriate roles in supporting the public research infrastructure at the federal, provincial and territorial levels as well as the private sector's, HEIs' and PRIs' responsibilities.

National debates around the public research system are often structured with scientific excellence as a policy goal. This is a central theme in countries like Germany, Spain, Austria, Ireland and Cyprus (to name a few), where various flagship initiatives are introduced with the goal of promoting research excellence.

Some countries indicate the need to strengthen the roles of regional actors in the public research system. In Argentina, for instance, a key discussion is the amount and distribution of federal budget for STI development, with particular focus on strengthening capabilities of less-favoured regions. One of the main components of Russia's national project "Science" is the establishment of world-class research and educational centers across its regions. Germany continues to strengthen its public research system through science policy that is largely implemented by joint programmes between the federal government and the Länder governments. One of the four pillars of Thailand's 2020-2027 Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation Policy and Strategy concerns regional development and inclusiveness of R&D activities. The United Kingdom's Strength In Places Fund aims to extend excellence from the “golden triangle” of Oxford, Cambridge and London to the rest of the country. Sometimes countries see a trade-off between providing regional support and promoting research excellence. Finland, for example, highlights discussions on whether it should pool more resources to develop critical mass in larger research-intensive universities or continue to maintain a network of smaller HEIs in most regions of the country.

Frequent policy themes at the centre of national debates include the internationalisation of public research (e.g. in Italy, South Africa and Spain, among others) and the promotion of open science and enhanced access to research data (e.g. in Iceland, China, France and the Europian Union, among others). Accordingly, large numbers of policies address these themes (see Section 3).

Finally, the availability of highly qualified human resources for research and innovation is often regarded as a critical determinant of the performance of the national public research system (see related policy area).

3. Snapshot of policy initiative data

Figure 1 displays the number of policy initiatives reported by themes within the Public research system policy area. By a wide margin, the most frequent themes are Internationalisation in public research and Competitive research funding. The latter includes different types of grant programmes and funding schemes allocated competitively, whereas the former includes various types of incentives encouraging the internationalisation of domestic Higher Education Institutes (HEIs) and Public Research Institutes (PRIs) or building international linkages through researchers themselves. The third most recurring themes is Public research strategies, containing national agendas emphasising the research system. This is followed by Open science and enhanced access to publications and research data, capturing initiatives that implement digital infrastructures and reforms or otherwise facilitate access to publicly funded research outputs. The fifth most recurring theme is Research infrastructures and large equipment, including large-scale infrastructure investments and roadmaps and equipment sharing schemes and mechanisms.

Bokeh Plot

As it is to be expected, the largest portion of initiatives in this policy area target public research actors (Figure 2). Higher education institutes (HEIs) and Public research institutes (PRIs) are more often directly addressed, though policies also target directly Established researchers, Postdocs and early-career researchers and PhD Students (in decreasing order). For all these public research actors, "open access" is a recurring keyword (obtained by hovering the corresponding bars in the figure with the mouse), which stresses the importance policies give to the accessibility of results obtained from publicly funded research. Private R&D labs are also targeted by policies, although much less so compared to their public sector counterparts. Firms are involved in about a third of policies compared to HEIs and PRIs. Keywords suggest that many policies targeting Firms promote research funding, addressing societal challenges and encourage science-industry linkages (e.g. via research infrastructures and smart specialisation strategies). Knowledge intermediaries play a more significant role in the Science-industry knowledge transfer and sharing policy area.

Bokeh Plot