09 Jul 2019   |   News

Research funding agencies in central Europe team up to boost regional cooperation

Through the Central European Science Partnership, four national funding agencies will issue joint research calls and recognise each other’s evaluation procedures

From left to right: József Györkös – Director of ARRS (Slovenia), Klement Tockner – President of FWF (Austria), Alice Valkárová – President of GA CR (Czech Republic) and Zbigniew Błocki - Director of NCN (Poland)

The Austrian Science Fund, the Czech Science Foundation, Poland’s National Science Centre and the Slovenian Research Agency have formed a partnership to boost cooperation in the region through joint funding and evaluation of cross-border research projects.

The Central European Science Partnership (CEUS) builds on a cooperation that started seven years ago between the Slovenian Research Agency (AARS) and the Austrian Science Fund, in which the two agreed on the mutual recognition of their procedures for evaluating research funding calls.

“We now [aim] to widen this approach from bilateral to multilateral,” József Györkös, director of AARS told Science|Business.

“I perceive CEUS partnership as a joint effort of four strong and equal partners to further support circulation of knowledge, enhance research potential in the region of central Europe and therefore contribute to its [greater] recognition in the international arena,” Györkös said.

The four agencies have agreed to boost collaboration, opening the way for researchers in central Europe to form cross-border collaborations and propose bilateral or trilateral research projects. At the same time as increasing the scale of projects and pooling expertise, the agreement is expected to significantly reduce the administrative burden for research teams of submitting proposals.

“[The CEUS partnership] grants researchers with the opportunity to build new or enhance existing collaborations with fellow researchers in the central European region, by [awarding] them funding for collaborative research projects,” said Györkös.

The four funding agencies are using existing instruments to encourage researchers to get involved in cross-border research collaborations. Research proposals will be evaluated by a lead agency, which is usually the one putting the largest share of funding on the table. For example, if the Slovenian agency puts out a joint call with Austria, evaluations will be made in Slovenia and with the results confirmed by the Austrians.

The lead agency principle means that when two or more agencies agree to jointly run a call for applications, researchers from those countries can apply. The process adds “value and visibility to national projects,” said Györkös. He hopes the initiative will increase the quality of research and increase awareness of the research capabilities in the region.

According to Györkös, CEUS countries will also try to use the same lead agency model in collaboration projects with countries outside Europe, particularly in Latin America.

Bridging the gap

The initiative does not aim to take on the big pan EU funding schemes, but rather should be seen as an opportunity for researchers to work together on more projects. “We see ourselves in a very complementary way,” said Györkös.

The cross-border partnership should help countries in central Europe strengthen their research performance, climb up in innovation rankings and reduce the research and innovation divide between richer and poorer member states.

“We are equal member countries, but when we look at the figures, there are differences,” Györkös said.  He hopes the multilateral research calls will bring more researchers into contact with peers in other countries, as international collaboration also has a “psychological effect”, in addition to the benefits of exchanging of knowledge.

“By boosting the cooperation we open opportunities for success in Horizon and [European Research Council] calls,” said Györkös. “The additional benefit is that we can fund larger projects.”

The funding agencies also want to work on policy issues, for example, to agree on how to organise evaluations in the future and how to handle the incoming wave of open access publishing, including ways to sanction researchers who do not publish in open access journals and what the incentives should be for those who do.

Open club

Györkös hopes other national agencies in the region will join CEUS in the future. However, only the Croatian Science Foundation is a likely prospect at present. “Croatian colleagues are doing well, they could be quite shortly on board,” said Györkös.

Partner countries were also in talks with Hungary’s National Research, Development and Innovation Office, but negotiations were halted because of concerns over government attempts to limit academic freedom. “We decided not to cooperate at this moment,” said Györkös, as CEUS membership requires that funding agencies are independent of politics.

 

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