Education revolution: increasing role for science, research and innovation (part VI)

Practical application of existing and modern achievements in science and innovation is among main “instruments” in education reforms; it is vital in several aspects: as a fundamental background to build the process of acquiring knowledge and as a necessary requirement for providing adequate skills for new directions in sustainable growth. 

In numerous strategic aspects of European integration the triangle of science, research and innovation (SRI), which already substituted the previously used “research and development” (R&D), has been of utmost importance; in the present education’s reform, dubbed “revolution”, the triangle takes the leading position in education policy’s fundamental transformations. Actually, without serious breakthrough in each triangle’s component the education revolution will hardly succeed.
The future of all EU states is presently based on the background of adequately acquired knowledge to workforce and additional opportunities for younger generations to develop their talent in attractive employment. Therefore science, research and innovation centers in universities, as well as in numerous industrial and manufacturing sectors provide not only strong background for new skills and re-skilling but also provide additional opportunities for employment careers in public and private organisations.
Thus, the sixth article in the series on education revolution is dedicated to present situation and perspectives of science and research (in fundamental and applied sciences, in natural, social sciences and humanities, etc.) in modern education and training. It also contemplates on science’s role in modern national recovery and resilience programs through the EU-wide measures concerning education policy’s performance.

The adherence of the EU member states to the “Pact for new European Research Area” (December 2021, so-called “nursing research foundation”) and the recent EU “strategy for universities”, are deepening the issues of science, research and innovation (commonly known as SRI) and opening science’s advances to governance in general and to active measures in “science’s transition” together with the twin transition in the EU agenda. Science, research and innovation is to be widely used both in the education process itself and in all inter-connected spheres of modern sustainable development; besides, present communities need more people in science and research, while a wide public needs trust in an optimal “balance” between curiosity-driven and more downstream-impact-driven education. More in: https://www.enrf.eu/?p=1238.

Innovation in education
The EU aims at helping the states become the global innovation leaders. First, they have great potentials: Europe accounts for 20% of global science and research investment, produces 1/3 of all high-quality scientific publications, and holds a world leading position in industrial sectors, e.g. pharmaceuticals, chemicals, mechanical engineering and fashion. Second, the EU assistance would give the states strategic orientation and support to reach the goal. Europe is relatively strong in adding or sustaining value for existing products, services and processes, known as incremental innovation. It is seen in numerous sectors: e.g. in space, aeronautics, pharmaceuticals, electronics, renewable energy, bio-based industries and advanced manufacturing. The EU states have been also supporting innovation through Key Enabling Technologies, such as robotics, photonics, and biotechnology.
These technologies can be used and applied not only across numerous socio-economic sectors; they are crucial for addressing key global/European challenges, including twin transition and sustainability. However, the EU-27 are still lagging behind on a global level in many areas: the EU companies spend less on innovation than their competitors (1.3% of GDP compared to 1.6% in China, 2% in the United States, 2.6% in Japan, or 3.3% in South Korea). Besides, venture capital (VC) remains underdeveloped in Europe: thus, before the 2019-pandemic, VCs invested about €6.5 billion in the EU compared to €39.4 billion in the US; the VC funds in Europe are too small – €56 million on average compared to €156 million in the US. As a result, the VC funds move to states and regions with better chances for faster growth.
The EU is home to only 26 “Unicorn start-ups” (start-ups valued at over $1 billion) compared to 109 in the US and 59 in China. Public investment across the EU falls short of 3% GDP target, and SRIs intensity is still uneven among EU regions, with investment and research heavily concentrated in Western Europe.
Besides, about 40 percent of the workforce in Europe lacks the necessary digital skills; however, technology-driven innovation, digital transition and other global megatrends (e.g. artificial intelligence, circular economy, etc.) offer huge opportunities while creating new developmental models. Global competition is intensifying and threatens Europe’s leading competitive position in key industrial sectors; hence, the EU-27 needs to deepen its research and innovation capability to maintain and improve regional integration perspectives. Therefore, the EU has to contribute to the member states through additional steps in research and innovation needed to ensure Europe’s global competitiveness by investing in science, research and innovation (SRI), which is at the same time investing in the member states’ future, improving wellbeing and assisting in solving social-economic challenges.
The EU’s “Renewed European Agenda for Research and Innovation” (adopted in 2018) sets concrete actions to deepen Europe’s research and innovation capability; it underlines that “new megatrends” (i.e. artificial intelligence, circular economy and SDGs, etc.) would bring profound changes in the states’ socio-economic development. The latter have to act fast to be able to take part in the new wave of innovation and catch up with the global/European competition. Growing international competition has forced the EU states to act urgently on research and innovation; current €100 billion fund for the EU research and innovation program is a huge boost; but the EU also needs a “breakthrough reform and support” for innovation through the European Innovation Council, which complements the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT). The EU budget SRI’s allocation of €100 billion for 2021-2027 includes €97.6 bn under Horizon Europe funds (€3.5 bn is allocated through InvestEU Fund) and €2.4 bn for the Euratom Research and Training Program. The Euratom program (which funds research and training in such issues as nuclear safety, security and radiation protection) has an increased focus on non-power applications such as healthcare and medical equipment, while also supporting mobility of nuclear researchers. Reference to:
https://euraxess.ec.europa.eu/worldwide/japan/european-commission-proposes-100-billion-eur-research-innovation-budget-2021.

Digital teaching and education’s quality
The Commission’ initiatives in integrating digital technology and innovation in online education and teaching is reflecting contemporary trends in educational revolution; these initiatives are in line with a more general EU’s Digital Education Action Plan, DEAP and member states’ post-pandemic recovery efforts. More in: https://digital-strategy.ec.europa.eu/en/policies/digital-learning.
Already at the end of October 2018, Commission unveiled some new tools in digital teaching: most important has been “Self-reflection on Effective Learning by fostering the use of Innovative Educational Technologies, SELFIE), as one of the DEAP’s eleven initiatives (presented to the education community in the beginning of 2018); thus, SELFIE was aimed at boosting digital skills in the states and supporting the innovative use of digital technologies in education, teaching and learning.
Digital education services have become both apparent and practically necessary during the “social isolation” forced by the post-pandemic period, leading to creation of universally accessible online courses, seminars and other contents for students and researchers.
Various apps and content are already greatly improving education quality and at the same time dramatically transforming operational teaching’s structures; these dynamic trends are at the same time questioning the age-old university-student connections. Numerous digital educational tools in a very quick developing mode have been actively used in supporting students’ cognitive development and at the same time in increasing teachers’ abilities to provide analytical skills.
Never before the students and educators have had such distant but quite efficient ways of changing educational landscape with the digital online-education solutions which are critical to facilitating uninterrupted delivery of teaching services.
Through smart phones, PCs and tablets the teacher has entered each student’s home and place: there is no need to forcefully gathering students for a lecture or a seminar: they can easily listen the lecture’s audio-version at any convenient time. For thousand of universities there is no need to rent a lecture hall, for millions of students there is no anymore need to drive to a university at a certain time with a great relive for the public transport, etc.
No doubt, digital education is the European future: this trend has already been a wake-up call to the states’ education governance in order to understand the benefits of new technologies for the digital learning. Hence, a comprehensive digital learning strategy has become a pivotal instrument in national education policy’s transformation and stimulates different states’ efforts both to learn from good examples and show businesses and governments best cooperative measures in building a digitally capable education sectors.
Among several EU-27 actions in digital education and teaching three priorities are specified setting measures to assist the states in meeting modern challenges in education:
– Making better use of digital technology for teaching and learning (Action 1 to 3), see the following web-links: Action 1 – Connectivity in Schools; Action 2 – SELFIE self-reflection tool & mentoring scheme for schools; and Action 3 – Digitally-Signed Qualifications.
– Developing digital competences and skills (Action 4 to 8), with the following web-links: Action 4 – Higher Education Hub; Action 5 – Open Science Skills; Action 6 – EU Code Week in schools; Action 7 – Cybersecurity in Education; and Action 8 – Training in digital and entrepreneurial skills for girls.
– Improving education through better data analysis and foresight (Action 9 to 11): Action 9 – Studies on ICT in education; Action 10 – Artificial Intelligence and analytics; Action 11 – Strategic foresight.

Note: recently these actions have been reduced to two main priority areas: a) fostering the development of a high-performing digital education ecosystem, and b) enhancing digital skills and competences for the digital transformation. More about the European “digital education plan” in: http://ec.europa.eu/education/education-in-the-eu/digital-education-action-planen.

SRI in national growth and education
In two main directions in the European growth agenda (“green” and digital transition) the role of science and innovation is fundamental: according to the International Energy Agency, IEA almost half of the technologies needed to reach EU’s net-zero by 2050 is not yet developed on a market basis. This makes additional investment in new technology and innovation essential; one of the leading “broad energy company”, Equinor Ventures announced in February 2022 increased investment in the development of fusion systems, aimed at commercializing fusion energy: in speeding-up innovation process to achieve the EU-2050 targets, the states have to use already existing technologies to reduce emissions. Thus, clean hydrogen technologies are already available and can provide European companies versatile and environmentally-friendly energy source; besides, the hydrogen-to-business (H2Be) project will produce low-carbon hydrogen from natural gas with a decarbonization rate above 95% and support decarbonisation of the EU states’ industrial development.
Access to affordable renewable energy sources is a vital key in decarbonization of heavy industries and manufacturing. New technologies are aimed at cleaning-up present polluting sectors: e.g. hydrogen can reduce consumption of iron ore, green ammonia, fuel to transport and ships, as well as carbon capture and storage; these facilities, generally, are not available or not yet commercially viable. There is a need to foster a market environment that rewards supply of low-carbon emitting technologies and circular products and promotes bio-based and sustainable technologies.
Reference to: https://www.equinor.com/en/news/20211201-stepping-up-fusion-investment.html?utm_source=politico&utm_medium=newsletter&utm_campaign=Equinor_EU&utm_source=POLITICO.EU&utm_campaign=b8a2b08cfe-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2022_02_09_05_07&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_10959edeb5-b8a2b08cfe-189017225.

The EU’s measures in research and innovation are of “double regulatory nature”: on one side, concerning science, it is a shared EU’s competence; on another, concerning education, it is a supporting and complementary. Thus, generally, the EU-SRI measures are of a triple nature: a) to ease financial regulation in SRI; b) to concentrate on market-driven innovations and c) to create the EU-wide research and innovation hubs.
Thus, in ensuring innovation-friendly regulation and financing measures, there are the following measures: giving priority to the transposition of the EU’s Directive on preventing restructuring frameworks; providing the second chances and measures to increase the efficiency of restructuring, insolvency and discharge procedures; increasing the procurement of innovative products and services by public authorities; rolling out the “Venture-EU” initiative to boost private investment and venture capital; further simplifying EU state aid rules to facilitate public funding of innovative projects including blending of EU and national funds.
More in: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-16-3802_en.htm; on investment funds, see: https://ec.europa.eu/info/business-economy-euro/growth-and-investment/investment-funds_en

In the direction of becoming a frontrunner in market-creating innovation, the EU established the European Innovation Council, EIC to offer a one-stop shop for high potential and breakthrough technologies, as well as for innovative companies with the scaling-up potential. The EIC has had a budget of €2.7 billion in the pilot phase for the period 2018-2020, with the objective to help identify and scale up fast-moving, high-risk innovations with strong potential to create entirely new markets. Presently, the EIC is part of the EU Horizon Europe program with a 7-year budget of €10.1 billion (over €1.7 billion in 2022 only) to support game changing innovations from early stage research, to proof of concept, technology transfer, and the financing and scale up of start-ups and SMEs. More in: https://eic.ec.europa.eu/news/european-innovation-council-biggest-annual-funding-opportunities-innovators-scale-and-capture-global-2022-02-09_en

As to launching EU-wide research and innovation program, it is the direction which includes bold and ambitious goals in areas to be co-defined with the member states. Progressive research is expected in such spheres as combating cancer, clean transport, hydrogen, and/or plastic-free environment, to name a few. These directions will encourage cross-sectoral investment and participation of various scientific disciplines to jointly perform a desired result by creating synergies with research and innovation strategies at the EU states, as well as at regional and local level.
More in the following websites: – Communication: A renewed European agenda for Research and Innovation: Europe’s chance to shape the future; – Factsheet: A renewed agenda for Research and Innovation: the Commission’s contribution to the Leaders’ Agenda; – Factsheet: EU research and innovation success stories; – Commission’s press release “Renewed agenda for Research and Innovation: Europe’s chance to shape the future” in: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-18-3736_en.htm?locale=en..

Before the 2019-pandemic, the EU member states spent together almost €320 billion on science and research; however, the SRI’s intensity (i.e. expenditure on science and innovation as a percentage of national GDP), stood at about 2.07 percent; ten years earlier this intensity was 1.77 percent. As to other major world economies, European SRI-intensity was much lower than e.g. in South Korea (4.22%), Japan (3.28%) and/or the US (2.76%); it was at about the same level as in China (2.06%) but much higher than in Russia (1.1) and Turkey (0.96%). In order to provide a stimulus to the EU’s competitiveness, an increase of the SRI-intensity to 3% in the EU member states is urgently needed.
The Commission has set a number of broad politico-economic goals for up to 2027, including “climate-neutral continent” with green deal and digital transition (in both, the SRIs can assist greatly in reaching the goals), sustaining employment and increasing growth (with industrial “renaissance” and new skills), defending European values, increasing the EU’s role in the world and developing innovations to support democratic processes (by enhancing trust in democratic institutions, improved transparency, accountability, rule of law and equality). In all these targets the role of SRIs is enormous: thus, businesses continues to be the main sector in EU’s funds allocation with the expenditures accounting for about 66 percent of total in research and innovation budget; the second is the higher education sector (with 22 percent) and the governance’s sector with over 11 percent. Thus, innovation and expenditures on SRI’s intensity are the main drivers in progressive development.
In pre-pandemic period, there were two key indicators to monitor SRI-intensity and expenditures on science and innovation, i.e. main resources devoted to science and technology in Europe. The highest SRI-intensities were recorded in Sweden (3.33%) and Austria (3.16%), followed by Denmark (3.06%) and Germany (3.02%), all with SRI-expenditure above 3% of GDP, whilst Finland (2.76%), Belgium (2.58%) and France (2.25%) registered SRI-expenditure between 2-3% of GDP. At the opposite end of the scale, eight EU states recorded SRI-intensity below 1%: Romania (0.5%), Latvia (0.51%), Malta (0.55%), Cyprus (0.56%), Bulgaria (0.75%), Croatia (0.86%), Lithuania and Slovakia (both 0.88%).
Over the last decade, the SRI-intensity rose in twenty-one EU states, with the highest increases in Austria (from 2.42% 3.16%) and Belgium (from 1.84% to 2.58). Conversely, SRI-intensity decreased in six EU states: most strongly in Finland (-0.59 points) and Luxembourg (-0.33). Support for business-enterprise sector has had dominant SRI-spending in all EU member states (highest in Slovenia and Hungary), except Cyprus and Latvia (where the higher education sector was the dominant performing sector) and Lithuania (where the share of higher education sector was the same as of business enterprise sector). Thus, the highest SRI-shares of expenditure performed in the business enterprise sector were observed in Slovenia (75%), Hungary (73%), Ireland and Sweden (both 71%), Bulgaria and Austria (both 70%), Germany and Belgium (both about 68-69%). For the government sector, the highest shares were registered in Romania (32%), Lithuania (28%), Luxembourg and Latvia (both 26%). The highest SRI-shares delivered in the higher education sector were recorded in Latvia (47%), Portugal (43%), Cyprus (42%) and Estonia (40%).

New SRI directions: future and emerging technologies
During last decade combined and coordinated efforts among the EU institutions and the member states proceeded towards gaining fore-front positions in the world, with some apparent new directions: “human brain project”, which provides additional understanding of the human brain and its diseases, as well as graphene initiative and quantum research projects. These so-called EU’s future directions in emerging technologies (FET) have been directed towards European pioneering positions in global science and technologies; FET flagships represented challenging and long-term research directions into uncharted areas that stretch the boundaries of science and technology.
It is evident that the main present trend in the EU’s science and research is from research and development (R&D) to science, research and investment (SRI). In order for European research and innovation to be successful in the coming years, the member states need funding: the EU has adopted funding and priorities for its next budget period up to 2027, including FP9, the successor to Horizon 2020, which is present EU’s research and innovation program. Serious funding is required to maintain European excellence in scientific research and turn technological discoveries into a greater number of industrial applications.
Several countries around the world have already made some progress in this direction: e.g. China has already overtaken the EU in terms of SRI-spending as a share of GDP; South Korea, Japan and the United States are at the top of the ranking.
The EU’s trend towards SRI is showing the importance of investment in two particularly relevant FET flagships:
a) European scientific community’s efforts towards mission-oriented and impact-focused approach in addressing global challenges to provide necessary impetus to practical implications and benefits in changing socio-economic policies;
b) improving combined EU and member states SRI’s efforts in order to add “European value” to scientific achievements and projects conducted in the states in order to better coordinate EU-states’ research programs.
Thus, some FET projects are becoming really important for the states: e.g. graphene and the human brain project, which provide for practical applications and positive effect on national socio-economic development, For example, the economies’ needs in graphene properties are huge: for graphene-based sensor for collision detection systems, which combines visible and infrared light to avoid collisions even in fog, for sensors in a band around the arm to detect electrical signals from muscles in order to move a robotic hand, and so on and so forth.
More on preferences in: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graphene

The FET’s other direction, i.e. human brain project tackles one of the greatest modern scientific challenges – understanding human brain and its diseases; the project intends to revolutionize neuroscience. Understanding and emulating some of the brain’s computational capabilities should also lead to major advances in robotics, artificial intelligence, big data analytics and new computing architectures.
Among perspective FET-directions is quantum technologies project, which aims at turning research results into industrial application bringing European SRI at the forefront of one of global most promising technological developments. The first quantum revolution expanded scientific horizons to lasers and transistors (widely used in computers, mobile phones and internet, etc.); the second quantum revolution, which is in its initial stage, is based on the growing ability to manipulate and sense quantum effects in customized systems and materials. This will mean totally new concepts for devices with the following real practical impact in: a) ultra-precise synchronization and enhanced sensitivity devices; b) guaranteed data privacy and communication security; and c) unprecedented computing power beyond anything known so far in the computing technology.
However, so far there is little industrial take-up or commercial exploitation in “quantum industry”: presently there is a world¬wide race for technology and talent in quantum. Despite several national initiatives on quantum, the member states have not yet adopted a coherent pan-European strategy in this regard.
It is only by working together across borders, sectors and disciplines, the EU states can push the boundaries of science and research towards developing practical applications. Therefore FETs political and financial commitment shall consist of the following priorities: a) developing a dynamic environment for research and innovation; b) allowing innovations progress smoothly from laboratories to market; c) attracting and retaining world-class talents; and d) making sure that European region shall be the global science leader.
Reference: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_SPEECH-17-4383_en.htm?locale=en.

The EU’s twin transition and sustainability transformations require systemic and cultural changes, as well as closely connected and strong collaborative interconnections among national researchers and international research community. Good coordination of efforts will be crucial in achieving concrete results along common European objective to make science an example of transparency, openness, integrity and opportunities; thus, inclusive scientific culture would permeate socio-economic development while transforming present education models along optimal disseminates knowledge and European values.
As to measuring the results of the research activity, researchers are using different “measurement units”, including collecting and processing data, as well as final “production” of reliable and verifiable results. There are objective means to ensure reliability and fairness as guiding principles used in such assessment methodologies: in supporting broader policy objectives, taking into account constant changes in research environment and circumstances, including altering scientific methods and public perception of the role of science in society and socio-economic progress.
Research processes are in constant evolution, accelerated by the current pandemic and the transition to a resilient, green and digital economy, and an inclusive society. The variety of activities, making increased use of advanced technologies, put us in a situation where research deliverables are richer and not limited to delivering and counting publications. Modern science delivers other outputs, mostly digital, like datasets, software, algorithms or protocols. And it delivers highly skilled people through specialized education and mentoring.

Science and research in higher education sector
New impetus for postgraduate and doctoral education, as well as a major push to improve the research environment in universities shall be elaborated. For example, the masters’ degree will also have a strong research component to strengthen the appropriate professional competence in the domain area to prepare students for feasible employment.
The biggest issue in the present education system is the lack of a coherent direction for planning and implementation of research at the university level. Each member state shall have a National Research Council (NRC) which would encompass at least four broad areas of sciences: technology, social/natural sciences, arts and humanities.
Besides strengthening the presently weak support that subjects such as the social sciences and the humanities receive, NRCs would also bring in cohesion among the various research endeavors of multidisciplinary character.
The NRCs are supposed to act also as a liaison facility among researchers, education ministries, government and industry, etc. in order to ensure that the most relevant and socially-useful research reaches the practical application as soon as possible. The process of strengthening the linkages among universities and their counterparts at the European and global levels shall be further supported and stimulated, for example, through the so-called “European Universities” project. An important mandate of the NRCs will be to seed, grow and facilitate research at those national institutions where research is currently inefficient and limited.
Multi-disciplinary research’s cooperation is also vital as an additional aspect of the modern education and scientific revolution: i.e. constant evolution is taking place in numerous research spheres which requires closer cooperation in addressing new scientific issues arising from increasingly complex scientific fields. More researchers from different domains: from biology and physics to economics, anthropology or humanities are working together along the boundaries of knowledge areas; besides, present “times of change” requires analysis of an existing system of scientific rewards and incentives. Researchers are too much dependent on publications in a globally recognized set of magazines reflecting another wider researcher’s scientific mission in dissemination of knowledge and mentoring of new generation of scientists. It is often a vicious circle in which more publications translates in more funding, while penalizing critical reviews of the scientific substance and limiting access to newcomers often enabling peer reviews favoring scientific expediency.
Finally, reforming science’s infrastructure in the member states has become a vital European agenda, as opening up science and innovation to students and educators requires adequate infrastructures for researchers and for academic community (like the European Open Science Cloud), with additional set of frameworks aimed at preparing new skills and professions.
Besides, there is a need to design a feasible assessment system for researchers, separate research projects and research institutions; such an assessment system would be based on European ethics and integrity values, encompassing new opportunities for the research community through collaboration among scientific disciplines and countries.
In the years to come, the EU institutions will ensure a combination of qualitative and quantitative indicators to evaluate research and researchers through EU-wide consultations with member states’ organisations representing academic community, public and private funders, universities, research centers, national evaluation agencies and policy makers. The process has already started and engaged over 150 EU-27 organisations interested in elaborating some commonly agreed principles for efficient evaluation and assessment; after an initial phase and concrete deliverables, the work will continue to pilot the updated evaluation criteria with the European University Alliances contributing and testing proposed reforms.
Reference to: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/SPEECH_22_806

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