It has become a common place to argue that science and technology permeates everyday life, but a new debate is emerging about the related role of the State, with emphasis in Europe . The continuous need for growing investments in formal knowledge activities , by countries and firms, underlines the search for competitive advantages and the establishment of sustainable bases for further development of the required “smart specialization” for Europe . This trend often combines mixed patterns of competition and collaboration and, in the specific case of Europe, is growingly intertwined to face a fast-paced, globalized and uncertain world.
In particular, the current economic situation has had major implications on emerging policy discussions throughout Europe on whether or not to cut future investments in the realms of science and (higher) education . The following aspects are worth noting:
Overall, the average investment in R&D per citizen has decreased comparatively with that in USA and the accumulation of R&D investment over the last 30 years is 50% lower in Europe than in the USA by 2012 (Figure 1).
- On the other hand, the quasi stagnation of R&D public investment in Europe during the last decade hides a major trend of internal divergence inside Europe itself.
- For example, in the year 2000, Germany and France presented similar national R&D budgets; today, Germany outpaces France by 50%. Italy budgets have declined since 2007, and in real terms are 15% lower than in 2000. And, most of small countries have slowed down, or cancelled, previous increases in R&D budgets.
- Undoubtedly there was progress in Science, Technology and Higher Education throughout Europe, but as a whole, Europe has met neither its goals nor its promises in this area.
These few aspects, among many others that could have been listed, recall similar debates in the eighties, as associated with overcrowding among students, lack of resources, increased costs of the school places, maladjustment between the educational and productive systems and the slow speed of response to labour market demands in the educational response.
In that occasion, it was clear that investments in education were important drivers of economic and social development . Indeed, investing in education in Europe, and elsewhere, contributed to develop new capacities and skills, together with professional competencies that mitigated negative effects of cyclic crisis. The flexibility in addressing economic and societal dynamics has been facilitated and stimulated through science and education , although many authors have argued that in the absence of a coherent policy framework (including collaborative arrangements, quality assurance procedures and other feedback mechanisms, among other issues) science and education are necessary conditions but not sufficient for wealth generation. In addition, analysis has also shown that budgetary cuts in science and (higher) education over time have exacerbated economic inequality and social exclusion
In this context, scientific and higher education institutions are critical agents given their privileged locus as repositories of knowledge, skills and competencies , as well as their effective contributions to the economy . Thus, the current economic situation presents a strategic opportunity for revisiting the role and mission of advanced training, knowledge and innovation in a post-financial crisis in Europe . This requires the adequate and systematic observation of policies and budgets across Europe in a way to report, publicly and periodically, relevant information and early warnings on the state of policies and budgets in each country and at EU level.
Today most of the debate on emerging paradigms for science and higher education policies requires the collective action of related institutions and a system approach to science and higher education, together with their internationalization. Our departure point is to enquire if there is room for a common vision of the future of science, technology and innovation in Europe. Such a future would probably require to:
- Multiply global R&D and higher education networks;
- Better understanding of “policy mix”: Exploration and exploitation;
- Extend business expenditure across small, medium and large companies;
- Consider the key role of local productive arrangements for global markets;
- Develop international R&D organisations and programmes;
- Invent jointly new economic drivers and diversify and combine funding sources;
- Promote the transatlantic debate for new research agendas.
Again, to deepen this and other debates, our goal is to foster the systematic observation of issues in science and technology, higher education and public policy in Europe based on indepth research. The results will be publicly disseminated and made available to policy-makers, scientists and, in general, to citizens, as well as actively communicated to them through “informed participatory debates”. In addition, the engagement of scientists in policy action will be attempted throughout Europe.