Hot Summer of Research and Innovation Policy – What’s Cooking in Brussels

Demos Helsinki travelled to Brussels in May to find out what are the current science policy trends and discussions related to universities’ role in the society. Here are our four picks on the discussions research institutions and science enthusiasts should follow.

1. What will the European moonshots be?

The science community and policymakers around Europe have for months been debating and anticipating the new 9th European framework for research and innovation also known as Horizon Europe 2021-2027. The European Commision published the guidelines of Horizon Europe in early June, and as has been anticipated, one of the new funding instruments in the framework are missions.

Missions, or moonshot missions, are ambitious and quantifiable missions of desired societal changes similar to the famous putting a man in the moon mission in 1960. Missions are probably going to be introduced under the Societal Challenges (and industrial competitiveness) pillar, and according to rumours, a rather wide portfolio of research, innovation and development projects will be allocated under each mission.

But what challenges will the missions aim to solve?  The ongoing debate around which missions are going to be chosen is a hot topic for many actors and interest groups, also universities. It seems so that the debate will increase during and after summer (2018) when decisions about them are getting closer. Nevertheless, strategic (self-sustaining and long-term) collaboration between academic and non-academic partners will most probably increase in anticipation of the upcoming funding opportunities provided by Horizon Europe.

2. Searching for new solutions in life-long learning

One issue on everybody’s minds at the moment seems to be universities’ and higher education institutions’ role in educating relevant future (working) skills, critical thinking and fostering personal growth. Industries and work are changing due to large societal trends such as digitalization and servitization, trends in European work policies and also as a result of innovation and developments in for example AI (see e.g. Life-long learning is conceptually interesting and normatively one of the most valuable goals for higher education. We should see new, hopefully concrete, openings of what life-long learning could be in the future and how do higher education institutions position themselves in relation to it. It, of course, goes without saying that life-long learning is a wider societal question and the responsibility shared by a variety of public and private actors. With rapid technological and social changes in work, the need for up-skilling and re-skilling seems to be growing in the future.

3. Open science is the way

Open and collaborative science is one of the biggest trends in science and higher education policy in Europe and in Finland. The Ministry of Education and Culture in Finland conducted a large and participatory process to define a vision for higher education and research in Finland for 2030. The conclusion was that open science is the main pathway for increasing the impact of the higher education institutions in Finland. The open science agenda – including a lot of aspects from citizen science to open innovation and publishing policy – is taken very seriously in the European Union level – it is one of largest sections under the Directorate-General for Research and Innovation and it forms the core of the strategic plans of the DG. Moreover, the general feeling is that open science is far from a concrete and clear goal. It seems that different universities across Europe are building their Open Science concepts and strategies vis-à-vis with currently ongoing national policy rearrangements related to open science.

4. Combining science with humanities – a winning recipe?

The big question in policy and strategy is what are the stronger links between science and society and where does the impact of higher education institutions come in the future? This, of course, remains to be seen and new openings and experimentation are highly welcome. An interesting direction would be to find multi- and transdisciplinary openings between technological research and the humanities. Strong basic research of, for instance, the human condition and democracy in the future combined with societally relevant new technology will most probably be of utmost value in an era underlined by ubiquitous technology and rapid societal change.

Creating conditions for multi-disciplinary and cross-societal encounters is not solely the responsibility of the academia, but rather to be seen as widely shared goal of the whole society. With increasing demands for the impact of science, it is fair to assume that the conditions and opportunities for doing it would be enhanced. This simply can not be overlooked in the formation of national science and research policies. Nevertheless, academic institutions and actors could take the lead in fostering this kind of collaboration. It is hard to imagine a better tool for understanding the biggest challenges and creating sustainable solutions to the challenges than the scientific thought.

This blog is contributed by our researchers Mikael Sokero and Julia Jousilahti.  Follow Mikael and Julia on Twitter.