Supporting education and research
Scholarship and research funds have enhanced student, teacher and researcher mobility between the donor and beneficiary countries.
Scholarships to ensure student and staff mobility
There is broad political consensus in Europe that student mobility within Europe is important. The EU has for instance set out a target that at least 20% of those graduating in the European Higher Education Area should have had a study or training period abroad.
Despite this consensus, however, many challenges remain. A great number of students, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds are hampered by a lack of funding. This has been compounded by the ongoing economic downturn which has hit young people particularly hard, as well other issues such as mutual recognition of qualifications. Against this backdrop, the EEA and Norway Grants Scholarship Funds have provided much needed support.
Scholarship funds in 11 countries
Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway awarded a total of €24 million to the Scholarship Funds benefiting 371 institutions and several thousand individuals. The support did not only enhance student and teacher mobility and exchanges between educational establishments, but also helped strengthen institutional capacity, improve skills and trigger mutual learning. Most of those benefiting from grants were students – 2 650, of whom over 1 660 were women. Funds also proved effective in encouraging staff mobility, with the take-up largely exceeding plans. A number of different activities were funded, ranging from teaching and research to fact finding for future cooperation initiatives.
Bilateral cooperation – a key value framing the overall Grant schemes – was particularly prominent within the Scholarship Funds. Although some of the beneficiary states used the Funds to promote mobility both to and from the donor states, most covered one-way student and staff stays in Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. In addition, 570 partnership projects were established in cooperation with entities from Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.
Research - stepping up investment
The EU has pledged to increase investment into R&D to 3% of GDP by 20201.Spending currently sits at below 2%, which means that Europe is lagging behind the US and Japan, as well as more recent competitors like South Korea. There are also significant disparities between European countries and regions, with all of the EEA and Norway Grants’ benefi ciary states well below the 3% target. Plugging this deficit, and creating an environment that encourages high-quality research and technological development, is crucial to keep pace with global competition and drive forward growth in Europe.
Research programmes in 6 countries
Under the research priority, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway awarded a total of €80 million to support 85 individual projects and eight research funds. Funding went mainly to public research institutes and universities, with some private universities and research institutes also benefiting. Norwegian research institutions were involved in three in five projects. One project had a partner from Iceland. The grants supported new patents, PhDs, and articles in scientific publications. Dedicated research funds were set up in six countries.
Research is a long-term investment. The funding has contributed to preparing the ground for further collaboration in other projects and sectors, including EU research programmes. An evaluation of the research sector carried out in 2011 (which focused on Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic) found that, given the scarcity of competitive funding for research, the support filled gaps and contributed to improving research quality and systems. It also pointed to the flexibility of the funding – seen as easier to access compared to other international sources. The draft findings highlighted that the grants are well known within the research communities, thanks to a broad dissemination of results in publications and, in some instances, through their impact upon policy.
The evaluation emphasised the benefits yielded from enhanced cooperation, underlining that “the need to strengthen bilateral relations is particularly relevant to research communities”. Funds for research efforts set up in the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia and Poland supported close to 100 research projects with partners mainly from Norway, but also Iceland. Participants included both private and public universities and research institutes.