The Biblical Matthew Effect in the European Research Area

Photo credit: Ministry of Education and Science of Latvia

2020 with all its ambitious goals is approaching extremely fast. Yet, most of the youngest European States are still lagging significantly behind the rest of the European Union (EU) in converging as equal partners and contributors to the European Research Area (ERA). In the macroregional context, one way to tackle convergence challenges, associated with advancing a more balanced performance in research and scientific excellence, is to establish closer cooperation and joint approach to the identified challenge. The INTERREG Baltic Sea Region (BSR) Programme´s funded project BSN offers recommendations in its latest study on widening participation in research and innovation.

The main focus of “Study on Research Cooperation in the Baltic Sea Region: Existing Networks, Obstacles and Ways Forward” is to define the barriers for widened participation of the new EU Member States (EU-13) in the EU Framework Programmes (FPs). The widening study attempts to contribute to creating a long-lasting joint BSN. Such Network would offer tangible solutions for addressing the macroregional convergence challenge.

Since the early 90s, the FPs have gradually opened-up and provided targeted incentives for researchers from the post-communist Central and Eastern Europe to join the European networks and common research and innovation (R&I) projects. Nevertheless, participation in the FPs of EU-13 in general and of Latvia, Lithuania and Poland in particular, remains limited.

In more specific terms, the EU-13 has received less than 5% of the FP6, the FP7 and Horizon 2020 budget. In fact, all EU-13 countries have collectively secured less funding from the FP7 than the top five organisations from the EU-15. Furthermore, in contrast to the initial expectations, EU-13 (with the exception of Estonia) are not catching up with the EU-15. Estonia stands out of the EU-13 group, since it has converged with the EU-15 and currently receives relatively large funding from FPs, given the size of its research and innovation (R&I) system.

The three main obstacles, the study identified as reasons for the relatively low participation of Latvia, Lithuania and Poland in the FPs, are limited number and quality of proposals, poor access to networks, as well as relatively low level of funding obtained by the successful participant (in terms of calculated lower personnel costs) in comparison to the peers of EU-15.

The findings of the BSN´s latest widening study provide a BSR-focused perspective on the concept Robert K. Merton described in sociology as a biblical Matthew effect, where essentially the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

In the research excellence setting it translates as the earlier success of established centres of excellence in competitive R&I programmes leading to the accumulation of comparative advantage (know-how, funding, talent, reputation, etc.) at a rate that increases or maintains the distance between “leaders” and “followers”. This can explain the large (and growing) concentration of the FP funding: the top-500 organisations in the FP7 made up only 1.7% of successful participants, but received 60% of the total funding; similarly, the top-3 organisations from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland received over 10 % of FP7 funding for their respective countries.

The study is of relevance to everyone who is engaged or has a particular interest in the ERA. The study offers a nuanced insight into the obstacles faced despite the implementation of widened participation measures. The study argues that a polycentric approach in establishing islands of excellence would serve the overall interests of cohesive research excellence growth in the BSR and throughout the ERA.

The “Study on Research Cooperation in the Baltic Sea Region: Existing Networks, Obstacles and Ways Forward” has been coordinated by the Ministry of Education and Science of Latvia and carried out by experts from Visionary Analytics with the support from Ventspils High Technology Park. This publication will be followed by a second studyParticipation in ERA and Baltic Sea RDI Initiatives and Activities: Analysis and Policy Implications for Widening Participation of Strong and Moderate Innovators”, which maps out several suggestions how to overcome the obstacles defined in the first study.

Both studies will be presented in the BSN transnational seminar “New Tools for Spreading Excellence and Widening Participation in Research and Innovation Programmes” on 16 November 2017 in Tallinn. Registration for the seminar closes on 31 October 2017.

The full study paper is accessible here.

The summary of the study paper is accessible here.

Download the pdf Press Release (282 KB) .