Overall, the research, technological development and innovation (RTDI) potential of the North West planning region is relatively low and is determined by a low number of national universities and research institutes. The region lacks general innovation suppliers, thus innovation partnerships are underdeveloped and affordable only by big companies. The prevalence of SMEs with restricted capacity for purchasing and adapting innovations affects the RTDI performance of the region.
According to Eurostat data, R&D spending has increased in the North West planning region from €3.4m in 2010 to €6.1m in 2014, or 1.8% of the total R&D spending in Bulgaria (Eurostat, 2017). However, the gross expenditure on R&D (GERD) represents only 0.2% of the regional GDP, a considerably low rate compared to the average 0.8% for the country (Eurostat, 2017). More than half of R&D expenditures in the region are concentrated in the business enterprise sector, representing 57% of the total GERD (Eurostat, 2017).
The North West region educated 116,862 students in 2015 (Eurostat, 2017) and employed about 4% of the R&D personnel in Bulgaria (Eurostat, 2017). The most prominent university in the region is the Medical University in Pleven. The human resources in science and technology (HRST) in the region are 30.2% of the active population, which is lower than the 36.1% average value for Bulgaria for 2016 (Eurostat, 2017).
Barely 19.1% of the population aged 30-34 in the region have tertiary education, which is significantly lower than both the country average of 33.8% and the EU average of 39.1% (Eurostat, 2017). Moreover, in the North West region, this percentage has dropped for the past few years, from 23.8% in 2014 to 19.1% in 2016.
The region accommodates 5.1% of the high-tech sector personnel in the country, or 5,900 people (Eurostat, 2017). Employment in high-tech industries and knowledge-intensive services is 2.2% of total employment in the North West region, which is lower than the country average of 3.9% for 2016 (Eurostat, 2017). However, the region ranks second on this indicator, right after the South West region, which has 8% of total employment engaged in high-tech industries and knowledge-intensive services.
The share of population with broadband access in the region has been following an upward trend, rising from 24% in 2010 to 58% in 2016 (Eurostat, 2017). However, this is the lowest percentage across planning regions in Bulgaria.
In the North West region, the total patent applications to the European Patent Office (EPO) per million of inhabitants is 1.4, which is still significantly lower than the country average of 4.1 (Eurostat, 2017).
The intermediary organisations operating in the region - Vratsa Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Regional Investment One-Stop Office for North West Bulgaria, the JOBS network of business centres and incubators in small and remote municipalities, have significant importance for revitalising the regional innovation system.