Research and economic growth

Linking entrepreneurship with research and innovation is a challenge for every developed or developing economy. In the European Union this was expressed with the Lisbon Treaty, which originally aimed to make Europe the most competitive economy in the world. Subsequently, the 7th Framework Programme for Research and Technology (2007-2013) contains numerous actions to pursue the long anticipated connection of the real economy with innovative research.

Although the design of the research programs and the transfer of their results to the real economy have not yielded the expected output, it is necessary to continue the effort, as the creation of innovative products and the development of more effective production processes seem to be the only way to recover from a Europe-wide deficit of competitiveness relative to many Asian and American countries.

Organization of research efforts in Greece

One may wonder about the position of Greece in the global research map in difficult times. The available funds, both in absolute numbers and in percentages, are limited in comparison to the European average. First of all, when it comes to research, Greeks are lacking self-awareness and the necessary determination. The Greek research policy needs to identify the areas of research interest, in which an investment of the scarce resources is worthwhile.

For the time being, the Greek research map is fragmented. This dispersion of research areas neither favors economies of scale nor supports collaborations among domestic academic and research institutions. A new organizational structure is required to create a nation-wide network of laboratories, without thematic overlays. Simultaneously, it is crucial to establish liaison offices for the transfer of research results to the related companies. The promotion of partnerships between enterprises, research institutions and universities will have multiple benefits for all stakeholders.

Meanwhile, the design of a ten year research roadmap could have a beneficial effect in conflictual and fragmented landscape that has resulted from the successive changes in the national framework for academic institutions. The National Council for Research and Technology, that was reactivated recently after years of inaction, may determine the strategic directions for research in Greece.

Attracting young scientists

Despite limited resources, Greek scientists have displayed in the past considerable research successes. This is unfortunately not due to a national strategy. It is the remarkable activity of single researchers or institutions. One must not forget that a large number of Greek scientists lives and works abroad. Sporadic actions to attract them back home have not been fruitful. In the contrary, our best minds leave the country, because of the continuous economic downturn. The reorganization of research on a new and stable basis has the potential to persuade young scientists to come to Greece and, simultaneously, to stem the “brain drain” effect.

Connection with the production

A new national research strategy should focus in the fields of agriculture, materials science and computer science. The shift in research for production of agricultural products is necessary, as the rural economy in Greece is expected to miss a significant part of its funds because of the new Common Agricultural Policy of the European Union.

Lots of experts from various disciplines are reluctant to turn to agricultural research. Yet a simple look in international science journals is enough to understand that in this area a real revolution is in progress. Satellite monitoring of agricultural production, robot machines and new agricultural products of high nutritional value are just a few technological novelties to be mentioned. The aim should be twofold:

a) Cultivation of new agricultural products with high demand in the world’s markets and

b) Increasing the added value of agricultural products by applying vertical manufacturing principles.

Conclusion

Is it possible for a country, plagued by economic crisis, to display significant research presence? My answer is yes. Universities and research institutions are likely to undergo painful restructuring, but this may result into higher research output. Linking research to production should be the main goal of a new research policy. The design and production of innovative products with high added value for the global market will certainly have a positive impact on the national economy.

SOURCES

This is the English version of an article that was posted on 27 November 2011 in the “Neos Agon” newspaper of Karditsa, Greece.

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