NTNU European Conference 2018

NTNU European Conference 2018

26th November 2018

The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) hosted their annual European conference ‘Knowledge for a Better World: R&I Recipes for Inclusive, Sustainable Development’ on the 26 of November. Rector Gunnar Bovim opened the event by emphasising the close links between NTNU research and the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals. This was followed by Giorgia Abeltino from Google Arts & Culture, who discussed the importance of democratising access to culture and the projects Google are undertaking in the name of this goal.

After three parallel sessions (one on Autonomous Systems and AI, one about the relationship between research and democracy, and one on the future of Erasmus+), we heard again from Gunnar Bovim ahead of the keynote Jean-Eric Paquet (Director General, DG RTD). Bovim expressed NTNU’s strong support for open science and welcomed an increased focus on the European Institute of Innovation and Technology. With regards to Horizon Europe, he emphasised the importance of keeping excellence as the number one priority, and of course called for Norway and other third countries to be allowed full access to the entire programme. In response, Paquet pointed to the excellent track record of collaboration between Norway and the EU as a reliable indication of their future relationship. He went on to discuss the current state of play vis a vis Horizon Europe negotiations, pointing out two clear advantages of political convergence ahead of the elections. Firstly, he said that it gives a strong message to the electorate and beyond that EU institutions can work together swiftly and effectively. Secondly, on a more practical level, it leaves much more time to work out the details of Horizon Europe. In its current form, Horizon Europe is much less detailed and prescriptive than its predecessor, Horizon 2020, which was being finalised right up until the point of its implementation. Because of this, a ‘strategic planning process’ is needed for Horizon Europe in order to ensure that the fine-print priorities and cross-cluster strategies can be worked out. Ideally, this will be a year-long process that involves all key players in a ‘co-creation’ effort – but all of this depends on its ratification before the 2019 elections.

Paquet went on to discuss in more detail several key developments for Horizon Europe:

  • One important project is the screening and reconfiguration of existing partnerships, of which there are over 100 currently in place
  • He offered some potential topics for the missions, which will be in line with societal discussion and are expected to be supported by national research agendas and integrated with public policy (see here for more information about missions)
  • The new ‘accelerator’ fund within the European Innovation Council is intended to solve the ‘scale-up’ problem (currently, many strong European start-up ideas are bought by foreign investors before they have a chance to reach the market)
  • Increased efforts to foster ‘disruptive innovators’ will require taking risks. He quoted the DARPA (the US research agency which is a ‘reference point’ for the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT)) slogan: ‘the measure of success is a 90% failure rate’
  • On the hotly debated ‘Widening Participation vs. Excellence’ question, he said ‘we need support for development, but clearly excellence should be the driving principle’. The proposal is intending to bridge the gap without compromising excellence; exact details will depend on MFF decisions

A panel consisting of Alexandre Affre (Business Europe), Ricardo Migueis (CESAER), Bertrand Bouchet (EARTO), Stig Omholt (NTNU Biotechnology) and chaired by Massimo Busuoli (head of NTNU’s Brussels Office) discussed these developments:

  • Affre, speaking on behalf of the business community, was ‘not convinced’ by the strict rules for third country participation, made even stricter by parliament. He also expressed disappointment with the high budgetary priority given to widening participation, noting that this re-allocation left Pillar 1 untouched, and was puzzled by the capped budgets for partnerships.
  • Migueis echoed these sentiments, stating that building a wall excluding third countries was ‘unacceptable’ and that the EU13 (countries that are considered to be behind in research and innovation) will not succeed if treated as ‘add-ons’.
  • Bouchet recommended that these countries should go to EARTO, an association which represents the interests of research and technology organisations from across the European Union. Further, he said that the added value of Horizon Europe comes from Pillar 2: so lumping together industry and societal challenges risks losing some of that added value.
  • Finally, Omholt ignited an interesting discussion on the value of open science, by suggesting that support for the project should be accompanied by consideration of the challenges it brings. If researchers’ income depends on subscription, will open access erode quality?
  • Paquet agreed that these challenges needed to be addressed, by engaging with the publishing world and finding an alternative metric to publications that is credible and useful. He also announced that the Open Science Cloud will launch Friday the 29 November in Vienna.

Photo by Sander de Wilde. The presentations from the conference can be found here.

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