Professor at Politehnica University of Bucharest and head of the UNESCO Chair on Science and Innovation Policy at the National School for Political Sciences and Public Administration, Adrian Curaj, has been deeply involved in higher education, science and innovation policies development in Romania for the past 20 years. He had been serving for more than 15 years as the general director of the Executive Agency for Funding Research, Development and Innovation in Romania (UEFISCDI), was the President of National Authority for Scientific Research and Innovation, and held the Minister of Education and Research position in 2015-2016. At international level he worked as consultant with World Bank, UNIDO, European Commission and UNESCO on higher education and foresight.
He discussed with The Global Research team his vision on how the research should be funded to have an essential impact on policies, business and everyday life.
Global Research: What is the role of UEFISCDI in Romanian Research, Development and Innovation (RDI) sector?
Adrian Curaj: UEFISCDI is funding research and innovation projects proposed by researchers from Romanian universities, research organizations, both public and private, and companies. We have in place a wide range of instruments covering from curiosity-driven, basic science, to targeted research projects in areas of smart specialization as well as health and cultural identity; from programs supporting public-private partnerships focused on developing new innovative products/services/technologies to small agile inno-vouchers scheme; from individual well established researchers and young promising talents to large partnership programs funded nationally or focused on international cooperation.
From the strategic point of view, for the countries using European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF), it was a key ex-ante conditionality to develop their smart specialization strategies. Romania decided to develop its smart specialization strategy at the national level. The strategy was developed by a consortium, with UEFISCDI coordinator, in 2013 and was approved by the European Commission in 2014; implementation started in 2016.
Global Research: What are the areas in which Romania can make a difference in RDI?
Adrian Curaj: The smart specialization priorities of Romania are at the crossroads between different areas: bio-economy; ICT (not everything related to ICT, mostly big data, cyber security and cognitive computing, as well as cyber-physical systems, manufacturing 4.0, and agriculture 4.0 where “ICT meets biology”); space research; new materials and new technologies; new and green energy; smart cities.
Romania has also research priorities not directly connected to smart specialization, like basic research, health, and cultural identity.
Global Research: What are the criteria used when deciding how to allocate funding?
Adrian Curaj: Projects’ selection is transparent, based on excellence and impact. The selection is tough, with an average success rate below 15%, based on a full flaged international evaluation mechanism. Ever since 2007, we have been using extensively mainly foreign experts for evaluating research proposals; Romanian experts have been also used, case by case. There are no obstacles for foreign principal investigators or researchers to apply to our research grant mechanism, Romania being one of the first countries in Europe implementing the science passport.
Global Research: Romania was chosen to develop the Nuclear Physics pillar of the historical pan-European Extreme Light Infrastructure project. What opportunities can such project open for the RDI sector in Romania in general?
Adrian Curaj: For the first time in history of the structural funds, Europe decided to finance pan European research infrastructures as Extreme Light Infrastructures (ELIs) are. Romania, Czech Republic and Hungary are the three host countries of the ELI pillars, each of them covering complementary areas. Romania hosts ELI-NP pillar, laser and nuclear physics.
This co-investment from ESIF and national funds is expected to have first, an impact on science and technology developments and next, on innovation and competitiveness, to generate new jobs-most of them knowledge intensive, and, at the end of the day, to generate innovation for development and prosperity. UEFISCDI has been at the forefronts of orchestrating the development of innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystems centered on ELI-NP and its hosting territory. In 2015, UEFISCDI organised an inclusive participatory vision building exercise for the smart innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystems development, as part of a smart territorial development concept; the result consists of the Laser Valley-Land of Lights vision, as well as the main directions of this integrated disrouptive development, a game changer, with future impacts regionally, nationally and internationally.
Starting autum 2016, UEFISCDI worked with the World Bank, EIB, EBRD, with the Romanian Government, local administration, consultancy companies and civil society to develop an action plan for Laser Valley-Land of Lights. The document was delivered in January 2017 (www.landoflights.ro).
It is worth to mention here the role ELI-NP and Laser Valley-Land of Light could and should play in brain circulation and its positive role in avoiding the brain drain. There are already more than 1,000 researchers and 2,000 technicians working in Magurele, the very city of ELI-NP, an area where there are located also five national research institutes, an university and many SMEs, an area where it is concentrated an impressive complementary research infrastructure, including CETAL – the Centre for Advanced Laser Technologies. CETAL was meant as a complementary to ELI research facility.
Global Research: What role can UEFISCDI play in the economic development in Romania and on European level?
Adrian Curaj: UEFISCDI have developed a core competence in foresight for policy making. We are working at the national level as well as at the European level as partners in key projects developing scenarios and key areas of scientific and technological interest for Europe 2030.
UEFISCDI was in the driving seat in preparing the R&D strategy for smart specialization, and we use all our capabilities for making this effort valuable for Romania. When we talk about smart specialization, as an European contribution to the new industrial innovation strategy, we talk also about the key process associatied with, the entrepreneurial discovery mechanism (EDP). We have been at the forefront of EDP experimentation in Europe. Our contribution is connected to the innovation in the way we use big data, smart analytics, cognitive computing, horizon scanning, all these advanced tools in support the EDP. We have developed „prêt à porter” tools, as a contribution of the theory and practice in smart specialization.
From the point of view of international recognition, three years ago, the World Futures Studies Federation awarded UEFISCDI the prize for the most entrepreneurial-forward looking institution-for our projects and work in foresight for Higher Education, Science and Innovation Policies.
Global Research: What is your message to the local and international research, governmental and business environment?
Adrian Curaj: Vision, action and predictability. We are forward looking and, at the same time, we have the capacity to act for making the visions reality. We have developed “in house” Romanian strategy for smart specialization, taking advantage of all existing experience and knowledge internationally. We didn’t use external consultants and we develop our expertise and capacity to provide consultancy. Foresight for policy is our core capability, foresight and different other tools for strategic policy intelligence. Inclusive stakeholder participation is one of the core focus of our efforts to develop new tools for collective intelligence, capable to facilitate citizen engagement and citizen science, large participatory national and international dialogues mandatory needed when we are looking at the future of Science and Innovation or Higher Education, when we are preparing strategies or new research and innovation policies at the national, macro/meta-regional or European level.
And the dialogue is about trust but also is about building a self-fulfiling prophecy needed for action, for making visions, reality.