Debate on how to build excellence in research, education and innovation in Europe

" - Photo: Margrete Løbben Hansen, Norwegian Mission to the EU
Norwegian State Secretary, Bjørn Haugstad, opened the event at Norway House in Brussels on 27 November.

More than 100 participants came together at Norway House in Brussels to learn about the EEA and Norway Grants’ investments in research, education and innovation, and discuss how to create stronger synergies between the grants and future EU programmes.

The event on 27 November was opened by Norwegian State Secretary, Bjørn Haugstad. He pointed out the challenges facing Europe today, and how the EEA and Norway Grants in tandem with the EU’s future framework programmes can help tackle these challenges.

– The European Commission is in the middle of its work to map the priorities for the future framework programmes. This happens against a backdrop of changes and uncertainty in Europe, such as climate change, an ageing population, changing security situations and increasing welfare differences between European countries. We are all here today because we believe that research, innovation and education can play a big part of the solutions we need, said Haugstad.

Read more: Explore the EEA & Norway Grants

The two main goals of the EEA and Norway Grants funding are to reduce social and economic disparities in Europe and to strengthen cooperation through increased bilateral relations. Haugstad pointed out that investments in the fields of research, education and innovation contribute to this.

– Investments in these fields are the backbone of a competitive economy. They have to be seen together as part of the same solution. We need to build excellent science, innovation and education across the whole of Europe, to create a level playing field. I strongly believe that the EEA and Norway Grants are one of the most important policy tools in this regard, Haugstad pointed out.

The success stories

The EEA and Norway Grants provide support for joint research projects between the donor countries – Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein – and researchers in 12 of the newest EU member states. An independent assessment has shown that the impact has been substantial. Some of the success stories were highlighted during the seminar on 27  November. Examples from projects in Latvia, Bulgaria and Romania.

Read more: Rapid Assessment of Research Programmes – Citizen’s Summary

– The EEA and Norway Grants has had multiple impacts for Romania. Especially in research, where we consolidated a very strong consortium specialized in producing vaccines. Through our partners from the Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomy Research (NIBIO) we met other researchers and made some applications to Horizon 2020, said grant-recipient and researcher, Ioan-Costin Popescu.

Creating synergies

Creating synergies was an important topic during the seminar. The first panel discussion focused on how more synergies can be built between research, innovation and education in the EEA and Norway Grants. The participants in the final panel debated what kind of synergies could be made between the next generation of EU programmes (FP9 and Erasmus+) and the EEA and Norway Grants.

– The Grants provide a testing ground for international project ideas. The effect is a platform for later applications to wider European cooperation. In a time where the building blocks of Europe are shifting and new challenges create new uncertainties, the Grants provide an opportunity to build stronger national research systems and trust between European colleagues, said Haugstad.

The panel debates included participants from the European Commission, beneficiary countries and Norwegian partners. Sumathi Subramaniam from the Directorate-General for Education and Culture in the European Commission presented her view on how to improve the synergy between research, education and innovation in the EEA and Norway Grants.

– The three are like separate ecosystems, and bringing them together requires the human factor. The people with the skills to identify what is going on in one ecosystem, and then bring it over to another ecosystem, said Subramaniam.

Other panelists also pointed to supporting mobility and removing barriers between different programme frameworks. CEO at the Research Council of Norway, John-Arne Røttingen, concluded the event in this way:

– It is important to invest in human capital. The same people we teach are the ones who become great researchers and innovators. First and foremost, it is those who work in the different projects who can contribute to creating synergy between education, research and innovation. The program operators have to concentrate on removing barriers for mobility and synergies between the separate programs, concluded Røttingen.