A European Commission study of 769
public research centres across Europe, released today, dispels commonly
held views that they are in decline, by demonstrating that the sector
is much larger and more dynamic than generally appreciated and is
radically re-inventing itself by building stronger links with industry.
The research centres surveyed employ over 100,000 scientists, and
in recent years have shifted from pure research to strong science-industry
relationships, with much more activity in applied research than
in basic research. They are therefore key to meeting the Lisbon
European Council's goal of turning Europe into the most competitive
knowledge-based economy in the world.
European Commissioner for Research
Philippe Busquin said: "Public research centres have been overshadowed
by the other research sectors for too long. The findings of this
study will help to redress this balance, by highlighting the sector's
strengths as well as its weaknesses. We must build on this knowledge
to ensure that our policies help public research centres maximise
their contribution to achieving a European Research Area and making
the EU knowledge-based economy the most dynamic in the world."
Public research centres: establishing
There is a great deal known about the evolution of universities
and changing practices and structures in industrial research and
development but far less is known about the third major group of
knowledge producers: public research centres. The sector has a long
history: the oldest laboratory was founded in 1670 but almost half
have been founded in the past 20 years as part of the Information
Technology and biotech waves.
According to the study, Europe's public research centres handle
budgets totalling over €25 billion per year. The EU's share
of the government sector in total R&D expenditure is higher
compared to the US or Japan (13.6% vs. 7.5% and 9.9% respectively).
However, over the past decade the growth rate of direct financing
by the governments declined by 1.2% in the EU, compared to a growth
rate of 0.6% in the US and 4.5% in Japan.
Dispelling the myths
A common perception of the sector is that it is stagnant or even
in decline, and its usefulness is often under scrutiny. According
to the study this perception is wrong. Over the last few years,
Europe's public research centres have witnessed significant change:
their missions have altered, public sector reform and privatisation
have been implemented, commercialisation has become more important,
and new ways of financing and organising research have emerged.
Furthermore, the sector is large,
often working on the basis of a focused mission, and serving in
particular the needs of SMEs and firms in more traditional sectors.
Thus, European non-university research centres can and do play a
critical role in achieving the European Research Area, and as facilitators
to modernise in particular the technology base of Small and Medium-sized
The study published today mapped
for the first time the status of Europe's public laboratory sector.
It surveyed a total of 769 research centres, while 49 were subjected
to in-depth case-studies. The study was led by PREST, at the University
of Manchester. Other project partners were CSI, Ecole des Mines,
France; Swedish Institute for Studies in Education and Research,
CSIC, Unidad de Políticas Comparadas; SPRITTE, Spain; ICCTI,
ISRDS, Ecotec Consulting, Atlantis Consulting, Technopolis France
and Technopolis Holland.
Note to editors
The study can be found at: cordis.europa.eu/indicators/publications.htm
Viola Peter, Directorate Knowledge-based Society and Economy,
Tel.: +32.2.295 04 46, Fax: +32.2.296 28 40,
Deborah Cox, Victoria University Manchester, PREST
European Commission - Research DG - Information and Communication
Tel: +32.2.295.99.71; Fax: +32.2.295.82.20; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Commissioner Busquin's Spokesman
Fabio Fabbi, Commissioner Busquin's Spokesman, DG Press,
Tel + 32.2.296 41 74, Fax: +32.2.295 82 20, E-mail: email@example.com
Some Key Facts
o Re-orientation of missions: from government to industry
o 100,000 researchers employed in public research sector in Europe
The 769 centres surveyed account for over €25 billion per annum
(599 cases with full financial information) in their budgets and
employ over 100,000 scientists (557 cases with full human resources
information). The greatest number of centres (237) employ between
10 and 49 scientists comprising 6% of the total number of scientists.
The greatest number of scientists work either in large organisations
with more than 500 scientists (45,241 in 18 organisations) or in
centres with 100 to 499 scientists (33,785 in 151 centres), comprising
respectively 43% and 32% of the total number of scientists employed.
The most frequent orientation of
the sector is applied research, carried out by almost all labs (92%)
while basic research is carried out by just over half (50%). Development,
diffusion, provision of facilities and certification and standards
are further roles undertaken.
Capabilities are concentrated in
engineering and technology, followed by natural sciences, but more
specialised capabilities are also evident in agricultural sciences,
social sciences, medicine and humanities.
In terms of linkages, national authorities
are the most important contact for the centres (92% of centres where
linkages are known are in this category). Industry provides the
second most important direction for major linkage (57%) and overall
(84%). Similar proportions have major linkages with academia and
the European Commission (43% and 37% respectively). Regional authorities
are less evident but one third of centres still register them as
a major link.
General and policy issues
- Importance as applied knowledge providers
- Endangered due to severe financial constraints
Research centres provide a natural route to reach traditional industry
and SMEs. They have a particular comparative advantage in areas
of innovation, which are structured by regulatory change. Policies
are needed to enhance their capability to support innovation and
especially to maintain their intellectual capital with strategic
research bases developed to counteract market pressure to perform
only consulting services.
Despite some constraints, research centres use the EU Research Framework
Programme (and similar national initiatives) to support their own
strategic research programmes so as to develop competencies that
they can market in their contract research portfolio and in order
to update their intellectual capital.
There is scope for rationalisation in the provision of many of
the services offered by the research centres. The overhead costs
of maintaining expertise and facilities in particular areas could
be borne much more easily across the European market as a whole.
Growing harmonisation of public services and legislation provide
a positive impetus for integration.
To achieve these benefits the following barriers would have to
- specificities in local markets for scientific advice and industrial
services caused by variation in legislation, standards etc.,
- differences in legal and ownership structures to perform the
same mission and that currently hinders the possibilities to co-operate
- differences in scientific and technological structures providing
a setting for a particular competence.
Thus an overall framework needs to be developed that helps in removing
the legal barriers while keeping the variety of institutional formats.
As major performers of applied research, being able to absorb R&D
spending and to produce industry-relevant research, these centres
thus contribute greatly to achieving the core European Commission
objective of turning Europe into the most competitive and dynamic
knowledge-based economy as it has been set out at the March 2000
Lisbon European Council.