Report moves discussion on research infrastructures from «what» to «how»
There is a need to improve the efficiency of funding and increase funding levels for existing and future research infrastructures in Europe, member States must also coordinate their
infrastructure priorities with those outlined in the European Roadmap for Research Infrastructures.
These are just some of recommendations made in a report by the European Research Area (ERA) Expert Group.
As the frontiers of research evolve and become more advanced and as our technologies progress, the demands for new, upgraded and more elaborate research infrastructures are becoming
increasingly complex and more expensive, often placing them beyond the reach of a single research group, region, country or even continent.
A step towards better planning for the development of research infrastructures at European level was achieved with the creation of the European Strategic Forum on Research Infrastructures
(ESFRI) and the e-Infrastructure Reflection Group (e-IRG). In 2006, ESFRI produced the first ever European roadmap for new and upgraded large-scale research infrastructures. The roadmap
outlines 35 research infrastructure projects identified as being vital to the development of science and innovation in Europe.
However these initiatives are not sufficient on their own, says Norbert Kroos, Chairman of the ERA Expert Group. In a newly published report by the group entitled ‘Developing world-class
research infrastructures for the European Research Area (ERA)’, Mr Kroos writes ‘The main challenge today is to set up a process that turns ideas into practice, to complement the ‘what’ with
The report suggests that the first step to take in this process would be to improve the efficiency of funding for existing and future infrastructures and to increase funding levels. To help
ensure better resource allocation, the report recommends the drafting of guidelines for the evaluation of research infrastructures.
As for increasing funding levels, consortia developing these infrastructures should be encouraged to make better use of various financing instruments, including EU structural funds, loans from
the European investment bank, public and private partnerships and tax incentives. In parallel, Member States should also increase their funding and coordinate their priorities with those
outlined by ESFRI, so that small and medium sized infrastructures are integrated with large-scale facilities, write the authors of the report.
The management of the next generation of pan-European infrastructures is also an area which needs to be addressed. To work efficiently, these new infrastructures will require legal and
governance structures that are easy to set up and use. The report suggests creating intergovernmental organisations with tailor-made legal frameworks to run the infrastructures. These would be
similar to existing successful organisations such as the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) and the European Southern Observatory (ESO). Alternatively, the report suggests the
development of an EU-level legal structure for interested research institutions.
In addition to physical research infrastructures, the report reminds us that the deployment of e-infrastructures is equally important to Europe’s future prosperity, and must therefore be
included in a coherent research infrastructure policy. Europe should reinforce its e-infrastructure strategy, write the authors of the report, by boosting the creation of virtual collaborative
communities of researchers, and ensuring the inclusion and participation of students and researchers from all over Europe in the highest levels of the knowledge society.
The report also looks at Europe’s role in global research infrastructures. It makes the recommendation that an appropriate forum should be identified or created where global research
infrastructures can be discussed and where ‘Europe should speak with one voice’. A set of strategic guidelines should be developed to help prioritise European involvement in these global
facilities. In addition, the authors of the report call on the European Commission to stimulate the creation of specific mobility schemes to enable researchers to engage with research
facilities outside Europe and vice versa.
The report concludes by emphasising the importance of having a coordination mechanism between stakeholders, including Member States, ESFRI, research organisations and industry, to address the
issues raised in the report. The mechanism would ensure the effective implementation of a coherent policy on pan-European research facilities. The European Commission would be in the best
position to take a central role in developing this strategic coordination mechanism. It could be a European Research Infrastructures Programme modelled, for example, on the successful European
Fusion Programme with well integrated national and European actions, argue the authors of the report.