multidisciplinary teams of sociologists, political analysts and economists
have taken a long hard look at public research systems in 12 European countries
varying in size, growth rate, culture and level of scientific progress -
the UK, France, Germany, Hungary, Denmark, Sweden, Ireland, Italy, Portugal,
Spain, Norway and Iceland. At the same time, a field survey was conducted
among 392 human genetics laboratories (see box p.9). This ambitious project,
European Comparison of Public Research Systems, was carried out over a two-year
period with support from the European Union.(1) Research
policies differ from one country to another, being rooted in a particular
tradition and history which affect their development. However, over the
past 30 years these differences have tended to erode due to a number of
major - and common - trends, such as the restructuring of research institutions,
a marked priority for new technologies, the emphasis on transfer to industry,
and the institutionalisation of evaluation for programmes and institutions.
institutes are taking a new direction
In the past, public research seemed to have a more precisely defined mission.
The key task of universities was to push back the frontiers of knowledge,
transfer know-how, and train new generations of scientists. The specialist
public institutes, on the other hand, concentrated on meeting the needs
of government policy and supporting the industrial priorities set by governments.
An example of a centre of excellence
of worldwide renown: CERN (the European Laboratory for Particle
Physics near Geneva.) View of one of the 6-metre diameter DELPHI
detectors in the LEP electron-positron collider.
institutes were expected to be able to anticipate and resolve questions
that could arise in the
fields of health, food safety, energy, etc.,' explains Philippe Larédo,
director of research at the Ecole des Mines in Paris, who managed the
project's laboratory survey. 'They were subject to various - and sometimes
contradictory - reforms. In the United Kingdom they had to become more
"service-oriented", in France they were pushed in the direction of academic
research. In every case, these institutes failed to fulfil the role they
should have in preventing and controlling the growing number of crises
- contaminated blood and BSE for example.' In some cases the decision-makers
transferred tasks which had traditionally fallen to research institutes
to universities, which, due to a lack of equipment or human resources,
were not necessarily in a position to take them on.
a need for new approaches which are better rooted in public concerns and
suited to each situation,' continues Mr Larédo. 'France, for example,
in addition to maintaining these institutes, has set up a specific mechanism
- complete with supporting legislation - for the processing of nuclear
waste, an AIDS research agency, a committee for research into BSE, and
- more recently - a food safety agency. To me, the concept of a generic
approach seems completely outdated.'
Innovation and technology transfer. The European watchwords of the
past 20 years.
Throughout Europe there is the same tendency to encourage closer links
between public-sector research and private-sector expectations. 'This
is not new. Do not forget that Louis Pasteur made major breakthroughs
in biology at a time when he was seeking to solve problems posed by industry.
It is useful for companies to help researchers to identify priorities
and to support their projects. The situation is less healthy when public
research is dependent on industrial contracts for access to research grants,'
remarks Jacqueline Senker of Sussex University, the project's coordinator.
and technology transfer are the two key terms - the watchwords - which
have reshaped Europe's research policy over the past 20 years. Ministerial
portfolios reflect this objective, often combining science, technology
and education. Implemented under weak economic conditions, without real
command of all the information and under time pressure, this reorientation
has often been based on ready-made solutions. 'There has often been a
tendency to imitate what has succeeded elsewhere in a comparable situation.
Government enthusiasm for technology transfer does not necessarily mean
that these initiatives are going to be a success,' continues Dr Senker,
who believes there is an 'urgent need to correct this excessive emphasis
on promoting industrial innovation.'
a relationship between universities and industry raises a number of fundamental
issues. Apart from the adverse effects of short-term, applied research
on quality, Dr Senker believes that 'This cooperation can prejudice the
status of "impartial expert", which is what researchers in the field of
scientific policy are expected to be. It is also sometimes very difficult
for an SME or company in the traditional sector to find the necessary
expertise. Some universities are no longer interested in meeting such
does this emphasis on economic return leave fundamental research? Unfortunately,
it is all too often the poor relation in the member states. Neglecting
long-term research in this way is not without its effects in terms of
failing to advance knowledge, tending to discourage talented researchers
from adopting a career with an uncertain outcome, and penalising applied
research, which is impossible without its upstream counterpart.
the 'single policy'
' 'Political perception of problems, orientations and objectives has become
increasingly similar in every country,' notes the report. 'Institutions
such as the OECD and the European Union have reinforced this trend. Their
analyses of the various situations and the solutions needed have had the
same influence on the national debate, in all countries,' explains Dr
Senker. She believes officials everywhere have jumped on the bandwagon
of evaluation, even if the effectiveness and impartiality of its use varies
from one country to another.
towards increasing uniformity is nevertheless meeting resistance from
national cultures - cultures sometimes seen as obstacles to the 'new scientific
policy' sought by policy-makers. For Dr Senker this 'multi-faceted' approach
to research is essential: 'The diversity of national systems must continue.
It stops us repeating our mistakes and permits new initiatives. It also
benefits scientific research. The interaction between scientists from
different countries in EU-backed projects, each making their specific
contribution, has generated an extremely creative process which is accelerating
the dissemination of knowledge throughout Europe. European funding should
promote multidisciplinary research, which is often neglected by national
programmes, although it is frequently the source of innovative scientific
and technological developments.'
Supported by the Fourth Framework Programme's Targeted Socio-Economic
Research programme (TSER).
In addition to the structural analysis of national public research
policies, a field survey was conducted among 392 human genetics
laboratories in seven countries: France, Germany, Iceland, Italy,
Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom. 'These laboratories are to research
what companies are to the economy: basic production units. Just
as there are SMEs and multinationals, innovators and imitators,
pioneers and developers, so too there are different kinds of laboratory,'
explains Philippe Larédo, who managed the survey.
Human genetics was chosen because it is representative of a new
method of knowledge production, is particularly active in the field
of life sciences, adopts a trans-disciplinary approach, and places
the emphasis on applications while at the same time having direct
links with fundamental research. 'This new method of knowledge production
reflects the way in which the use of skills and knowledge is being
spread increasingly widely throughout society and the economy. It
also reflects a re-balancing of the roles, with research increasingly
concentrating on problem-solving.'
The idea was for the laboratories to provide a 'compass card' of
research, taking all their various activities into account: production
of certified knowledge, involvement in training, contribution to
gaining competitive advantages, anticipation and realisation of
public objectives, participation in the public debate. Different
activity profiles were defined on the basis of the way they combined
these roles. Despite the very 'fundamental' nature of their research,
more than half the laboratories have important links with hospitals
and industry, which does not prevent two-thirds of them also playing
a major academic role. 'Our hypothesis is that the more laboratories
open up to other institutions the more strongly autonomous their
strategies become, thanks to their involvement in several different
programmes, and their relations with the socio-economic world -
companies and hospitals - etc.' These strategic choices are made
in situ, by each laboratory, and quite independently of criteria
of nationality or parent institution. It is this which 'must raise
many questions for the parent institutions and for incentive policy,
whether regional, national or European.'
Centre de Sociologie de l'Innovation Ecole des Mines de Paris
funds allocated to universities and research centres are traditionally
channelled through one of two paths: the research council finances
specific research projects on a competitive basis following an evaluation
by scientists; block grants allocate institutes a global amount
which they are then free to manage as they see fit. This latter
method - with a guarantee of independence - is becoming more common.
Jacqueline Senker believes that 'the two systems must continue to
operate in parallel, although there should perhaps be stricter control
over the way in which the money is spent in the case of the block
grants. However, we must also remember that they do allow scientists
to explore radically new fields which research-council evaluators
might be inclined to refuse.'
Whatever form it takes, national research funding is inadequate
in most countries. Additional sources available in certain countries
include European funds (Ireland, Portugal, Spain), contracts with
industry (Germany, Spain, Portugal, Ireland), and foundations set
up by industry or non-profit-making associations (20% of the research
resources of British universities). Some countries are also taking
new initiatives, such as France which has just introduced an 'ecotax'
with the revenue collected going to research on the environment