Forschungs- & Entwicklungsinformationsdienst der Gemeinschaft - CORDIS

The institutional transformation of S&T systems in CEE

The crucial weakness of the S&T systems, or ‘narrow’ national systems of innovation (NSI), in the CEECs was their failure to develop R&D at the enterprise level. In the current stage of post-socialist transformation, industrial restructuring has not directly involved domestic R&D/S&T systems. In the medium or long term, however, domestic S&T systems or ‘narrow’ NSIs will have to be much more closely involved in the process of industrial restructuring if the CEECs are to vigorously pursue industrial upgrading. Very weak demand for R&D, as well as the problems of restructuring the S&T systems themselves, help to explain the current situation.

The project shows a broad compatibility in transformation between ‘broad’ and ‘narrow’ national systems of innovation, or between general system transformation and the restructuring of S&T systems. Changes in ‘narrow NSIs’ reflect changes in the broader system of innovation, but they also have a degree of autonomy as these are mixed or hybrid (public/private) systems. The results show considerable differences in the content of institutional restructuring of S&T systems in different CEECs. In S&T policy, for instance, the spectrum of interim results achieved until now ranges from the Polish case of a more centralist administration and a predominant retention of public funding, even in the field of applied research, to the more clearly decentralised course in the Czech Republic, where there is no specific ministry for science and research, funding of research is left to the individual ministries and the (mainly privatised) industrial enterprises, and all former R&D branch institutes have been either privatised or closed. Furthermore, when considering the differences between the individual CEECs in terms of the state of their legislation (and their observance of laws), the evaluation of facilities and scientists, the introduction of competitive forms of financing for R&D projects, and their share in total R&D funding, etc, one gains the impression of a very wide spectrum of variation in the institutional transformation of the S&T systems in the individual countries. A systematic comparison of countries across several dimensions was attempted, including general progress in economic transformation, changes in S&T policy, and changes in individual institutional S&T sectors.

The result is the three groups of countries with high consistency of assessment on all three criteria. This is particularly present between the most advanced group and the group, which is the most behind in terms of institutional transformation of S&T system.

The classification of countries into Group I (Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Estonia, Slovenia) and Group III (Moldova, Bulgaria, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine) shows a clear congruence between progress in economic recovery and institutional transformation, and transformation of the S&T system. In other words, there is a broad compatibility in transformation between the ‘broad’ and ‘narrow’ NSIs, or between general system transformation and S&T system restructuring.

The relative autonomy of ‘narrow’ NSIs can be observed in the Group II countries (Latvia, Slovakia, Lithuania, Romania), which demonstrate differences in restructuring between economic transformation, S&T policy, and changes in S&T institutional sectors. For example, substantial advances have been made in S&T policy in some Group II countries, often comparable to those made in the Group I countries. However, without a corresponding stable economic basis, these political and policy changes in S&T clearly could not be translated into radical changes in the performing S&T institutions. This inconsistency in areas of change is also present within specific institutional sectors, especially when the establishment of a new superstructure may often lead to little in terms of content, when the newly acquired autonomy of science is not always followed by competition and relevance, and when advances in academic science are accompanied by much lesser advances in the restructuring of industrial R&D.

Despite large national differences, the transformation process is characterised by a few common phases, each characterised by different types of changes.

The first step in the process of transformation was the dissolution and fragmentation of the old S&T systems. The second phase was characterised by a consolidation of the “surviving” portions of the old S&T systems, and their transformation into players whose position and behaviour became adjusted to the new environment. The third phase is witness to the emergence/building of new S&T systems, relating in particular to an appropriate quantitative balance of activities in S&T organisations and a balance of different types of organisations in S&T systems.

All CEECs have passed through the first phase of transformation (dissolution and fragmentation of the old socialist S&T system). In the group of leading countries (Group I) the changes in state and governing institutions and other players, and in the regulations in S&T policy, have generally been successful. These countries have also, to a large extent, passed through phase 2 and are in transition to phase 3. The middle group (Group II) of countries are in phase 2 (with varying success in managing individual sub-processes). In these countries, progress has in particular been made in the political environment. In most cases, the necessary science policy bodies and regulations have been created, although there are still difficulties in implementing new regulations. In this case, therefore, the issue is not so much a fundamental question of reorganisation, but rather of its practical realisation.

The least advanced group of countries (Group III) is essentially still at the beginning of phase 2 of the transformation process. The impact of continuing economic decline is strongest in this group and directly affects all areas of life, with a destabilising effect on the S&T system.

R&D systems in CEE have introduced competition and ensured scientific autonomy outside of political control. In most of the countries, we have seen competition through ‘peer review’- based selection, although the implementation of these systems shows weaknesses and only a low share of funds is distributed in this way. However, the introduction of these systems has not resolved the problem of their relevance for industry and the economy.

While autonomy has been achieved in these economies, the relevance of science for the new demand structure has not. In fact, by giving funding priority to the most competent groups and individuals and by avoiding any strong structural policy in science funding, science policy has temporarily petrified the old disciplinary profile. We must wait for science policies in the CEECs to develop structural components that could then assist in transforming the inherited disciplinary structure. This is important if we take into account that the critical issues for these countries, like education, environmental protection, competitiveness, health care, information infrastructures, etc, cannot be satisfactorily tackled with inherited disciplinary S&T structures.

Industrial R&D:
With the introduction of the market economy in CEE countries, industrial R&D has been undergoing by far the biggest changes in terms of organisational arrangements, functions, and funding. Reactions to these changes have been markedly different in the individual transformation countries, with the spectrum running from a substantial dissolution of industrial R&D in the course of its exposure to the forces of the market, all the way to its politically supported reconfiguration. But since economic changes and a difficult acclimatisation of newcomers to the EU and to international marketplace are inevitable, any artificial preservation of redundant and often centralised R&D capacities is condemned to fail. Instead, new tasks and opportunities must be sought out for them and policies developed for their restructuring.

The differences in country responses in the field of industrial R&D depend on the pace of change (shock or gradualism) and the type of restructuring (active or passive). These dimensions produce a variety of nationally specific patterns of adjustment. Most of the CEECs have followed a policy of passive and gradual adjustment in industrial R&D. The assessment of different responses is dependent on policy implementation capability. The lower that capability, the higher the costs of gradualism in terms of the erosion of the industrial R&D and weakening of any impetus towards restructuring, and the more attractive the option of rapid privatisation of industrial R&D activities. Either way, an effective policy is one that aims at supporting activities (projects) and not institutions per se, and that supports a limited number of consistent and administratively feasible goals. The costs of gradual policy are hidden but can be very high, as is evident in the imbalances between nominal and real activities of organisations, squeezing out of the most competent groups through per capita funding, and the survival of those who do not have prospects in a market-oriented R&D system. For most of the CEECs, the policy problem is how to shift from survival and passive adjustment to a policy of active restructuring of industrial R&D.

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Evaluation - Policies
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