A large number of businesses support innovation to develop new or improved, and ultimately more competitive, products and services.

We live in a society in which scientific and technological research forms part of our daily lives. We are accustomed to the emergence of new technological, pharmaceutical and food products or materials, among others, which allow us to be better and more efficient. We see young children, our own sons and daughters, who want to be researchers (the second most highly valued profession among Spaniards according to a survey conducted by FECYT) and we see how science and science management have filtered into social debate and parliamentary and political decision-making.

R&D is one of the driving forces behind university and research centre activities. A significant number of businesses also support innovation to develop new or improved, and ultimately more competitive, products and services. There are tens of thousands of people working in the R&D sector in Spain (precisely 200,232 in 2014, according to INE, and nearly 9.000 of those in Castile and Leon).

For most people, jobs in research are practically invisible and related to the products and services that are generated during the last phase of the R&D process. Until that point, it is necessary, in most cases, to significantly invest in human capital and sustainable infrastructures over a significant period of time, more or less time according to the field of research. The degree of uncertainty (the possibility that one may not reach their objective, or to do so only after others have done so themselves) is quite high.

Different methodologies are applied during the process of research and innovation according to the specific area of knowledge, or whether the process is carried out in universities, research institutes or companies; but in most cases they are determined by financing conditions. Open models of innovation, which have broken off with the historical tendency of encapsulating company-based R&D in order to avoid others from participating in the actual development, are forcefully imposed in sectors such as automotive, ICT and energy, among others. More and more laboratories are opening their doors to outside research groups with a similar synergy in order to share experiences, opportunities, and to advance more quickly and solidly with their research. R&D is undergoing a rapid and profound process of decentralization and it is imperative to knowledge wherever it exists and to connect it into a system of nodes which predominantly incorporates people and organisations from different countries.

These processes, which are very common among entrepreneurs and an increasing trend in science and technology parks, are acquiring an international dimension in many cases fostered by supra state financing systems. Programmes such Horizonte 2020 (H2020), driven by the European Union and with a budget that has exceeded 71,000 million euros in eight years, are the foundation supporting the work of many research teams.

Competing for European funds implies a joint effort with partners from different countries, which assumes participating in a collaborative research process.

Competing for European funds implies a joint effort with partners from different countries, which assumes participating in a collaborative research process.  In this respect, Spanish researchers have certainly done their due diligence, and for the first time, in 2014, our country received more European research funds than what they paid out in EU membership fees. We are now the fifth largest recipient for funding within H2020, with 553 million received last year.

This tendency is on the rise and affects all types of organisations, whether public or private. One case in point is that the University of Salamanca quadrupled its income from joint international projects in 2015 relative to the previous year, and went from participating in 7 European projects in 2013 to 37 projects in 2015. Although being in the first division of research involves being competitive in the effort to obtain European projects, it is clear that the more prominent research groups have an intense and determined support from the regional or local administrations they depend on or the industry that surrounds them. Clear examples include the University College of London, which has already obtained close to 50 million euros from H2020, the University of Cambridge (44 million) and the University of Copenhagen (39 million).

However, this process of internationalisation is not alone in participating competitive calls at the European level. One of the keys to improvement is to attract international talent, making our organisations attractive enough to entice researchers, entrepreneurs and investors to develop R&D projects here with us.

It is not a utopia. At the Science Park of Salamanca, we are incorporating companies from other countries interested in carrying out innovative activities in a university environment. The two most recent companies to join us have been Mexico’s UST Global and MEGA from New Zealand.

It is also important to establish clear medium and long term policies that structure and drive these investigative processes in both public and private entities. These policies include providing researchers with adequate training and fostering processes to recruit talent. Good and well-managed research plans and strong institutional support strengthen and drive internationalisation processes which are already (and will be even more so in the future) the foundation of our financing and a source of wealth for our community.

Innovation that opens its doors to the international arena is becoming more an obligation than an option. To compete and to triumph on a global scale involves establishing alliances, reaching agreements, organising and strengthening talent and providing the necessary equipment and resources. Given this situation and in light of what is to come, remaining off the global map of R&D is not an option.

 

Posted by Juan M. Corchado

Vicerrector de Investigación y Transferencia - Universidad de Salamanca // Vice President for Research and Technology Transfer - University of Salamanca

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