If supported, small- and medium-sized research infrastructures have the potential to boost the resilience of European society

One of the focuses of the Czech presidency of the Council of the European Union in the field of research is the role of research infrastructures, including their potential to improve the preparedness and resilience of European society to socio-economic and health crises.

Small- and medium-sized research infrastructures are overlooked

Large research infrastructures are well recognised at a national and European level for their crucial role. However, the equally important role of small- and medium-sized research infrastructures* for European research and innovation is generally overlooked.

Different actions have helped provide recognition for research infrastructures in the past few years. Those initiatives were showcased at the International Conference for Research Infrastructures 2018 (ICRI 2018). Nevertheless, they were all focused on larger infrastructures. The Czech presidency has committed to adopting Council conclusions and has called on EU Member States to prioritise investment as part of their public spending on research and innovation. It is essential that small- and medium-sized infrastructures are also included in this initiative.

‘EU-LIFE stresses the key role of small- and medium-sized research infrastructures for the European research ecosystem’

“As the alliance of research institutes advocating for excellent research in Europe, EU-LIFE stresses the key role of small- and medium-sized research infrastructures for the European research ecosystem. Without these infrastructures hosted at research institutions across Europe, the research and innovation goals of the European Union cannot be achieved,” commented Marta Agostinho, Executive Director of EU-LIFE.

How can these research infrastructures be supported?

The need to specifically support these small- and medium-sized infrastructures has been highlighted for a long time. In order to respond to the conclusions of the ICRI 2018 debate, EU-LIFE issued a call for action for the small- and medium-sized research infrastructures that includes six specific recommendations:

  • Clearly recognise and acknowledge the important role of small- and medium-sized research infrastructures for European Research and Innovation.
  • Map and understand the needs and challenges that small- and medium-sized research infrastructures are facing in Europe.
  • Address these needs and challenges while promoting the contribution of these research infrastructures to the sustainability of the research and innovation ecosystem.
  • Include specifically the dimension of small- and medium-sized research infrastructures in the framework of the European Research Area (ERA) and the plan for sustainability of European research infrastructures.
  • Involve the relevant stakeholders for the small- and medium-sized research infrastructures in the policy process as successfully done in the past at DG Research and Innovation.
  • Provide commensurate support within Horizon Europe to small- and medium-sized research infrastructures for training, innovation and transnational access, as stipulated by the Competitiveness Council conclusions from May 2018.

These guidelines align with the priorities of the main stakeholders in the European research ecosystem, which participated in a dedicated workshop as a follow-up to the aforementioned call for action.

What has been EU-LIFE’s contribution?

Since then, EU-LIFE efforts to enhance the impact of small- and medium-sized research infrastructures have focused on supporting these facilities at the European level and giving recommendations on how to acknowledge their contribution to research, how to best develop the career of research infrastructure staff, and how to ensure the sustainability of core facilities.

In addition, a survey was carried out recently among 126 infrastructures from 12 of the 15 EU-LIFE partner institutes with the aim to benchmark their different financial, operational and management models, as well as staff careers and support. This benchmarking exercise resulted in an exhaustive report which was produced earlier this year.

“The report is a useful reference tool to get insight into operational and financial strategies at research infrastructures. The working group also used the exercise to identify specific challenges and launch new initiatives to develop sustainable core facilities, as well as to assess existing ones,” said Sofie Kjellerup Christensen, EU-LIFE Project & Policy Officer and lead co-author of the survey report.

An overview of the benchmarking results will be launched at the International Conference for Research Infrastructures (ICRI 2022) and made available on the EU-LIFE website. ICRI 2022 will be held in Brno (Czech Republic) from 19 to 21 October.

*Large-sized research infrastructures cater for specific needs of specialised groups of users which require a highly sophisticated and/or costly infrastructure and as a result have a European user base. On the other hand, small- and medium-sized research infrastructures have a local user base, which allows them to develop and implement new technologies and train the next generation of scientists.

Written by EU-LIFE. EU-LIFE is an alliance of research centres whose mission is to support and strengthen European research excellence. EU-LIFE members are leading research institutes in their countries and are internationally renowned for producing excellent research, widely transferring knowledge and nurturing talent. Since its foundation in 2013, EU-LIFE is a stakeholder in European policy participating regularly in the EU policy dialogue.

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