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CEI Research Fellowship Programme

Final Report Summary - CERES (CEI Research Fellowship Programme)

The Central European Initiative (CEI) is the largest and oldest intergovernmental forum for regional cooperation with a current membership of 18 countries of Central, Eastern and South Eastern Europe, out of which 10 EU and 8 non-EU Members (www.cei.int).
Scientific cooperation has always been a trademark of the CEI agenda, facilitated by the location of the CEI Secretariat in Trieste (Italy). Trieste is one of the most advanced scientific hubs in Europe, with a high concentration of international scientific institutions and research centres. Scientists from all over the world have been coming to Trieste since back in the 1960’, when the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) became operational thanks to the commitment of its founder, the late Nobel laureate Abdus Salam. The “Trieste Science System” currently hosts 30 researchers for every 1.000 employees, compared with 5,7/1.000 in the EU, 8,1/1.000 in the US and 9,1/1.000 in Japan.
In this particularly favourable environment, the CEI decided to make a concrete contribution to support incoming mobility of researchers from its Member States towards the Trieste-based centres of excellence. Indeed, incoming mobility towards high-level institutions represents a valuable professional experience that can boost researchers’ career, thus indirectly promoting the overall scientific development of the CEI area, while bridging between countries inside and outside the European Research Area (ERA).
The implementation of the CEI Research Fellowship Programme “CERES” (www.cei.int/CERES) managed by the CEI, relied on strong cooperation ties with 5 partners acting as host institutions: International Centre for Theoretical Physics “Abdus Salam” – ICTP (www.ictp.it); International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology – ICGEB (www.icgeb.org); Cluster in Biomedicine – CBM (www.cbm.fvg.it); International School for Advanced Studies – SISSA (www.sissa.it); Synchrotron – ELETTRA (www.elettra.trieste.it).
This multi-disciplinary combination of institutions, which altogether cover a large spectrum of scientific research such as physics, mathematics, genetics, biotechnology, neuroscience, nano-science, bioinformatics, was the real added-value of the CERES Programme, allowing considerable freedom of choice as to research topics, in line with the bottom-up approach pursued by the Marie Curie Actions.

CERES ran for 60 months and launched four Calls for Applications in the period April 2009 – March 2014, based on a transparent, open and merit-based selection as envisaged by the European Charter for Researchers and the Code of Conduct for their Recruitment. The Programme was implemented along the approved work plan and in compliance with both committed resources and time. Efforts were made by the CEI to promote the CERES Programme via its contacts at institutional level (Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Ministries of Science & Research in all Member States, plus relevant Academies of Science) and on web portals such as EURAXESS, Area Science Park, CORDIS, Science System FVG and WBC-INCO.NET. The CEI disseminated information on the Programme and its calls during important international events, among which:
• The Steering Platform on Research for the Western Balkans (Ohrid, Macedonia, May 2011; Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, December 2011; Tirana, Albania, June 2012; Belgrade, Serbia, December 2012, Budva, Montenegro, June 2013; Zagreb, Croatia, December 2013);
• The Steering Group of Priority Area 7 (to develop the Knowledge Society through research, education and information technologies) of the EU Strategy for the Danube Region (Vienna, Austria, June 2012);
• The CEI Ministerial Meeting on Science & Technology (Trieste, Italy, October 2011, September 2012, October 2013).

CEI Ministers responsible for Science & Technology often recognized the importance and usefulness of CERES, and they agreed to mention the Programme as a best practice in support of researchers’ mobility in the Final Communiqué of the CEI Ministerial Meeting on Science & Technology, held in Trieste on 19 September 2012.
The above-mentioned host institutions were also particularly active in promoting and disseminating the Programme, counting on well-established international contacts and long-standing experience in transnational mobility. The positive outcome of this shared promotional effort was a satisfactory participation in the Calls for Applications.
Scientific communities of all CEI Member States showed great interest in the CERES Programme, in particular those of non-EU CEI countries. This is an essential element since, by supporting transnational mobility of researchers from non-EU Member States, an ideal bridge between EU and non-EU countries was laid down, thus opening the European Research Area (ERA) to third countries targeted by enlargement (e.g. the Western Balkans) and neighbourhood (e.g. Eastern European Countries) policies. This major achievement is perfectly in line with the core CEI institutional mission, which can be summarised as the promotion of “regional cooperation for European integration”.
The majority (54,8%) of applications submitted under the four CERES Calls came from non EU-CEI Member States: 3 CEI Eastern European Countries (Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine) altogether submitted 32,3% of the overall applications, while 23 proposals (equal to 22,5%) were submitted by the Western Balkan Countries.
Out of 102 applications submitted, 30 were selected, in line with the objectives identified by CERES (56,6% from non-EU CEI Member States: Ukraine, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Belarus, Moldova, plus Croatia, yet a non-EU country at the moment of the last CERES Call for Applications launched in 2012).
Also in terms of gender balance, CERES succeeded in meeting the initial objectives: the participation of male and female researchers was rather equal (ratio 53/47 for submitted proposals; ratio 57/43 for selected proposals).
These positive outcomes were possible thanks to an efficient organisational structure and smooth management procedures. CERES Partners have been cooperating, either on a bilateral or multilateral basis, since about 10 years. Therefore, all tasks related to fellows’ mobility were performed without any particular difficulty by the CEI, in tight cooperation with the administrative departments of the host institutions.

During the project implementation, the CEI conducted a short survey among CERES fellows with the aim to collect direct “hands-on” feedback, also in view of future improvement and development of the CERES Programme. 25 replies were collected, largely positive with regard to both the scientific contents of the Programme and its administrative procedures. In particular, the following elements were emphasized:
• Trieste represents an ideal location to carry out advanced research, due to the presence of top-level facilities and laboratories, as well as a stimulating, multi-national and multi-cultural environment
• Integration in the scientific community of Trieste is easy and allows to establish links and relationships for future collaborative transnational research, thus naturally encouraging career development
• This fertile environment offers many opportunities to researchers on mobility, such as international seminars, courses and conferences opened to a wide audience of scientists and other stakeholders. Inter-disciplinary and cross-sectoral (public-private) cooperation finds in Trieste very good framework conditions to emerge
• A mobility experience in one of the institutions of the “Trieste Science System” may be a decisive step in the career path of researchers, providing them with further knowledge that can be transferred once back in their countries of origin

CERES fellows remarked the excellent scientific supervision received at their host institutions, as well as the opportunity to work independently and autonomously. They highlighted that the CERES Programme will support their career development through:
• The results achieved by their research project
• Techniques and knowledge acquired during their mobility period
• Established scientific collaborations in view of future transnational research.

The impact of the CERES Programme on the development of researchers’ career is confirmed by the following data, provided by the 30 CERES fellows 2009-2014:
• 92 publications (peer-reviewed articles, chapters of books, conference proceedings)
• 10 spin-offs generated by the research conducted in the context of the CERES Programme
• 10 CERES research projects able to attract additional funding

Furthermore, 14 out of 30 fellows have found a permanent position after completion of their CERES fellowship, while 21 out of 30 stated that their social security conditions improved thanks to the CERES Programme.
One final word shall be spent on the COFUND scheme, which, in the case of CERES, decisively helped streamline and leverage funds available at the CEI and at the host institutions. Indeed, the EC grant encouraged a synergic use of financial resources in the framework of a joint fellowship programme, a best practice against fragmentation of efforts and dispersion of resources.