step4EU Science, Technology, Education and Policy for Europe

The emerging European context: a brief diagnostic (March 2014)

In spite of past experiences in dealing with financial and other cyclic crises for the last fifty years and the recognized value of science and higher education, public spending in these areas as a counter-cyclic measure to manage the current situation throughout Europe is far from being a reality, with the notable exception of Germany and the Nordic region

The European Union, as it stands, provides an exceptionally challenging environment for the future of science and higher education. Indeed, national budgets, rooted upon domestic political perceptions of local strategic priorities, are key to the understanding of the development of public policies related to science and higher education

Taken together, gross (public and private) R&D expenditure (GERD) in the EU-27 now account for about 2.0% of EU’s GDP (for comparison, GERD in the US is about 2.8% GDP). The point to be made is that the quasi stagnation of R&D public investment in Europe during the last decade hides a major trend of internal divergence inside Europe itself.

Figure 1. Cumulative GERD per capita (U.S. Dollars 2005 constant prices and PPP); Source: OECD Statistics

In a decade hit by recession and economic and budgetary problems, the EC has recently estimated that a large number of EU countries have not achieved Government expenditure over GDP growth in the period 2008-2012 (i.e., GBOARD, as in Figure 2), with the notable exception of Germany and a few other countries with high-intensity R&D, as well as some other fast growing R&D member states, like Luxemburg, Portugal and several recent EU members (Poland, Estonia, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Hungary, etc.)

In absolute numbers, at least since 2008, a larger R&D divide is in the EU, with a growth of resources in Germany and some Nordic countries, against a relative global reduction of resources in other large countries like Spain, Italy, France and the UK (Figure 3). Europe has to work harder (and smarter) in promoting a specific and direct strategy in science and higher education in order to foster social and economic development and contribute to avoid the surprising estimates of UNESCO (2012), that warns about the possibility to have a “lost generation” of 200 million of young people – the bulk of which are expected to possess some kind of higher education qualification.

The challenges for Europe are immense, independently if they are global, national or local in nature, as most are to all effects transversal (e.g., global warming). In this setup, an adequate policy framework not only helps mediating the interface between science, higher education and society, but also contributes to shaping systems, strategies and development patterns . Thus, a critical question arises: which types of public policies for science, technology and higher education for the coming decades, both for individual member states as well as the EU as a whole, are necessary?

It is clear that more is needed beyond an increase in GERD. It is also well known that emulation of successful policies elsewhere or of simple policy guidelines without understanding their timing and context is insufficient – even misleading - to drive for these objectives . The complex attributes of the global, knowledge-centred economy demand a complex and synergetic complementarity of policies and actions, within and across Europe.

This, in turn, entails that science, technology and higher education across Europe, including related national policies, has to be understood in a systemic and evolutionary way, framed internationally while accounting for regional characteristics. In other words, a “glonacal” evolutionary perspective , based on learned lessons, is of the utmost importance to tackle the challenges of the present and future.

Figure 2 - Total Government Budget Appropriations or Outlays for R&D -- GBAORD (million current PPP $)

Source: OECD; Netherlands is included in the large sized countries because of the size of the budget

Both science and higher education rely on similar critical features: learning, through developed activities; funding, and other incentives, to support learning activities; and people, that by learning, being mobile, and a creative force, contribute to the emergence of new knowledge, better institutions, and ultimately, a more social cohesive society. In this framework, Europe has had a long history of development, but the world has changed. While it is true that Europe has a long established accumulated knowledge capacity, its relevance in the world has waned. Emerging regions in Asia and South America are currently striving to improve their knowledge systems and have a much greater role in networked global markets, geopolitics, and societies . The process of globalization itself points out towards a world of networks, of collaboration and competition, demanding adaptation and revision of the public policies of the past

Figure 3 – Higher Education R&D expenditure, HERD -- (million 2005 dollars -- constant prices and PPP)

Source: OECD; Netherlands is included in the large sized countries because of the size of the expenditure