Skip to main content

Bringing Western Balkans closer to Innovation Union: An example of EURAXESS Regional Collaboration

Final Report Summary - WEB-INUNION (Bringing Western Balkans closer to Innovation Union: An example of EURAXESS Regional Collaboration)

Executive Summary:
WeB-InUnion is a project financed by the EC under FP7. The project had a duration of 26 months, starting from 1/9/2012 and the consortium consisted of all Western Balkan Countries (either as beneficiaries or as associated partners). The overall ambition of the project was to narrow the gap of the aforementioned region with the EU countries with greater research capacity. This would be achieved by implementing activities related to Commitments #1, #4 and #30 of the Innovation Union.
In regards to Commitment #1, beneficiaries promoted attractive working conditions by promoting the European Charter for Researchers and the Code of Conduct for the recruitment of researchers (C&C). A large-scale promotional campaign was conducted in all eight participating countries. Through info-days and meetings, participation in exhibitions and fairs, the consortium tilled the soil and planned the seeds of transparency and equal treatment during the recruitment process and mutual respectful relationship between researchers and employers. Various target groups were contacted throughout this campaign. Policy makers, research institutes’ top management, administrative personnel and, of course, researchers of all levels were informed thoroughly about the principles of the C&C. It is estimated that around 2.000 people were contacted directly whereas, taking into account the networking effect, the number of people indirectly reached is multiplied.
The campaign produced impressive tangible results. Almost all participating countries showed increase in their number of C&C signatories or/and the number of the research institutions obtained the Commission's "HR Excellence in Research" logo. In BiH, with no C&C signatories before the beginning of the project, thanks to WeB-InUnion partner, fourteen organisations undersigned the C&C principles. In Croatia, with a significant number of C&C signatories prior to the project, organisations moved one step further and seven of them developed HR strategies incorporating the C&C principles.
Transparency and equal treatment during the recruitment process was also promoted through the promotion of the EURAXESS Jobs Portal. During the same aforementioned events, partners explained the benefits of the use of EURAXESS Jobs and the principles behind it, principles which in some cases were totally unheard.

The advertising of the EURAXESS Jobs Portal was part of the efforts to tackle the remaining obstacles that hinder mobility of researchers (Commitment #4). The core part of this endeavor was an extensive survey whose goal was to identify the remaining mobility obstacles and propose recommendations for their alleviation. Hundreds of stakeholders, from various positions, took part in the survey whose interesting results were used as the main part of 7 national reports (one for each country) which offered an insight into the problems of the national research communities.
A survey was also used in order to initiate a dialogue with the Scientific Diaspora and reveal decision-making patterns of diaspora researchers in regards to their movement in another country. A database of thousands of contacts of diaspora researchers was built and used to forward a survey which investigated reasons to leave the home country, selection criteria of the host country and motives either to repatriate or to facilitate the distant collaboration with the home country. The results were very interesting, pointing out the similarities that the participating countries share and producing national reports with tangible recommendations that, if followed, could easily enhance the national research production.
Innovation Union promises to bring growth, jobs and prosperity in Europe by 2020. WeB-InUnion was proven to be the perfect medium to spread the IU ideas in the Western Balkans region and the ideal tool to make the IU a reality. The experienced consortium in combination with the proper project plan lived up to its promise and achieved fully its objectives.

Project Context and Objectives:
WeB-InUnion was conceived so as to address some of the societal challenges mentioned in the “Innovation Union” Communication (IU). Five partners and three associated ones, all coming from the Western Balkans region, joined forces so as to assist in the implementation of three Commitments (#1, #4, #30) of the IU and, consequently contribute on the realization of a truly effective European Research Area.
Regarding Commitment #1 (WP2), WeB-InUnion focused on creating a common attractive working environment by promoting the C&C principles. Various promotional activities, depending on the progress of each country in regards to the C&C, have been designed aiming at increasing C&C awareness, C&C signatories’ institutions and HRS4R acknowledged institutions.
Regarding Commitment #4 (WP3), the project’s activities focused on mapping the remaining mobility obstacles (according to commitment #4) in the Western Balkan regions, informing the policy makers about the outcomes of the mapping exercise and providing them with feasible solutions. Additionally, the project aims at enhancing open recruitment processes by promoting the EURAXESS Jobs portal. An increase in job vacancies published in the EURAXESS Jobs portal will be a step forward to open recruitment therefore this is what partners will seek during the project’s lifetime.
Last but not least, in reference to Commitment #30 (WP4), the project seeks to establish an open dialog with the Diaspora researchers so as to attempt attracting diaspora researchers back to their countries of origin. Project seeks to identify possible reasons for repatriation of diaspora researchers and, if this is not feasible then, possible ways for interaction between diaspora researchers and the home country. Furthermore, partners will establish a communication with the Diaspora through e-newsletters whose content will include research news of the home country and news related to repatriation possibility. The experience that will be acquired from all these activities is planned to be transferred to policy makers along with measures to alleviate the “brain-drain” phenomenon and increase the flow of researchers back to their countries.

Project Results:
WeB-InUnion’s core work was divided into three work-packages (WP2, WP3 and WP4) each serving the realization of a different Innovation Union Commitment (#1, #4 and #30 respectively).
WP2 was dedicated in the promotion of attractive working conditions for researchers through the promotion of the C&C principles. Since participating countries had different adoption level in regards to the C&C, countries were divided into groups based on the aforementioned criterion. Croatia’s aim was to persuade the 37 C&C signatories move one step forward and produce HR strategies incorporating the C&C principles. Montenegro had the same objective while the remaining countries’ (Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, FYRoMacedonia, Greece and Republic of Serbia) main objective was to increase the C&C signatories.

In Croatia, a national HRS4R Group was set up. The group was consisted of representatives of the institutions with the HR Excellence in Research recognition, representatives of the MSES as well as of representatives of the AMEUP. The group met twice during the project lifetime.
The first meeting was organized in the premises of the AMEUP on January 21, 2013. At the beginning a presentation of the project and its objectives was given by Ms. Ana Grdović. After the introductory part, Ms. Mirjana Vuk from the Business Innovation Agency of the Republic of Croatia (BICRO) gave a presentation about the ERA Chairs pilot call in which the C&C is quite important for the possible applicants. Furthermore, Ms. Edita Petronijević from the University of Rijeka reported shortly on internal evaluation of the implementation of their human resources strategy. Ms. Edita Petronijević explained the course of the internal evaluation, written in two pages only. She concisely explained the planned and realized activities at the University of Rijeka after which the Group used the opportunity to exchange best practices among each other.
The second meeting was organized in the premises of the AMEUP on June 12, 2014. The main objective of the meeting was the clarification of the fifth step of the C&C implementation process, i.e. external evaluation. University of Rijeka is the first Croatian institution awarded in 2010 by the “HR excellence in Research” logo. Since the external evaluation is after 4 years, this was an excellent opportunity to invite speaker from the European Commission to share information about the evaluation process after the first four years of implementation. Mr Dorian Carder presented state of the play and explained the planned activities from the EC: 20 peer reviewers who will be in charge of the external evaluation, 8 visits planned in June/July that will check actions put in place and interviews with relevant personnel, including researchers. Another objective of the meeting was to invite newcomers to share their experiences with the C&C implementation in their institutions. The most important issue discussed at the meeting was how to implement the action plans, problems faced during the implementation etc. One of the awarded institutions has not sent the self-evaluation report after the two years, which resulted in losing the logo, but only temporary. Therefore, this was good opportunity to discuss the problems that institutions might have due to management changes. The goal of all participants is of course to keep the logo permanently and not to lose it due to faulty implementation or non-implementation.
As an additional activity related to the support of the Croatian HRS4R Group, AMPEU prepared the document “Recommendations for research institutions in the process of obtaining the logo Human Resources Excellence in Research”. The document contains a general recommendation for research institutions in the process of obtaining the logo (e.g. all actions should have clear timelines, there should be specified who participated in the decision making, what exactly motivated the organisation, etc.). Additional recommendations from European Commission that extend abovementioned recommendations were included in the document. Not only will this document be useful for the Croatian HRS4R Group, but also for whole EURAXESS network, no matter from which country, since the recommendations are general and applicable for all.

In addition to the two “physical” meetings, the group “met” electronically several times. The results proved that the group worked quite effectively. Before WeB-InUnion project, nine Croatian research organizations had been awarded the HR Excellence in Research recognition. By the end of the project, 15 Croatian institutions have been awarded with the HR, an increase of 66%. The achievement was not only quantitative but qualitative as well. The largest Croatian university (the University of Zagreb) has been awarded the logo as well and this is truly a huge success, as it expect more Croatian research organisation to follow its example.
In the remaining countries, the achievements were equally impressive. The main goal was to increase the numbers of C&C signatories. To this end, partners, through info-days and meetings, participation in exhibitions and fairs, promoted the C&C principles and the principles of transparency, equal treatment during the recruitment process and respect in the working environment.
In total, there have been more than 75 promotional activities and thousands of people were reached directly. The activities served different purposes according to the target group. For example, meetings with RI’s top management aimed at the adoption of the C&C principles on behalf of the institution whereas presentations to researchers aimed at sensitizing the audience and informing it about the EC initiatives that work in their favor.

The aforementioned promotional activities were also used for the promotion of the EURAXESS Job platform which is another tool to promote transparency, equality and fight nepotism during the selection process.
Before the beginning of the project, 23 institutions from all participating countries (excluding Croatia) had undersigned the principles of the C&C and, only, two had been granted the “HR Excellence in Research” logo (excluding Croatia). Due to the promotional campaign of the consortium, the figures increased by 113% (26 more C&C signatories) and 400% (8 more HRS4R Logos) respectively.
In the framework of Commitment #4, the consortium’s endeavor was to identify the remaining mobility obstacles and then provide recommendations so to tackle them. To this end, the consortium designed three questionnaires to previously identified target groups. The three questionnaires were designed for: research organizations (both private and public, including universities) and industry, researchers, and policy makers. The three questionnaires were translated to national languages and then disseminated on a national level by all partners. Databases for the identified target groups have already existed from previous projects. Thus, each partner had a starting point of contact points for each database, which was built upon to include other actors that were relevant to the dissemination of the questionnaires. Information in the database was also updated. The two questionnaires aimed at research organizations and researchers were disseminated through Google drive. Google drive proved very useful because it was free of charge while offering enough tools for questionnaires’ analysis and extraction of data, it made easy for partners to translate them to their national languages, and it was easy for responders to fill in and send their replies back. There was approximately 1 month time for receiving responses from the questionnaires. The questionnaire for policy makers was designed with open-ended question and only 2 to 3 relevant policy-makers were targeted for contribution to the mobility issues studied under this task. After the time allocated to collecting responses from the questionnaires expired, all partners agreed on sending another e-mail reminder. After this reminder was sent out, the questionnaires were closed.
Parallel with the collection of responses from the questionnaire, a national legislation analysis was conducted by all partners. MANU designed the template for this analysis, which was based on topics that are covered in the Innovation Union Commitment #4. The national legislation analysis was the first step in completing the National Reports. The National Reports consisted of completing the national legislation analysis, analysis of the three questionnaires, inputs from the consulting groups, and conclusions and recommendations. The first step was the analysis of the national legislation with regards to the topics of interest which proved very useful in finding the gaps in the research infrastructure in each partner country. The analysis of the questionnaires, which was helped out by the use of Google drive which provided useful extraction and summaries of the data, proved a good tool to compare the data with the national legislation in place, and to also see which features of the mobility system are missing, especially from the points of view from the target groups. The policy makers provided invaluable information and in depth look into the current system and especially helped with the recommendations on what can be changed in each respective country. Finally, the recommendation from the consulting groups helped to sum up the report nicely and tie in all the data to get a real comprehensive look of the situation in the countries in the Western Balkan.

All of the national reports served as a basis for the Synthesis Report which offered a concise view of the current situation in the region.
Furthermore, in regards to Commitment #30, the project’s ambition was to establish a communication with the Scientific Diaspora and investigate, among others, possible motives for return and, if not possible, forms of collaborations with the home country.
This endeavour started with the construction of database with contact details from scientists who reside abroad or national associations of researchers abroad. At the beginning, the consortium decided that each partner should search for contact details of scientists who reside outside the European Area but then, since for some countries the majority of their Diaspora resides in countries within the European Area, it was decided to expand the selection criteria and include also contact details from within EU.
The database includes 934 contacts details of which 924 are individuals working in 34 different countries. The majority of the researchers work in the USA.
The remaining 10 contact details concern research associations such as the “Hellenic Bioscientific Association in the USA”. In regards to the survey, an email was sent to these associations asking to forward the questionnaire to their members increasing the sample size.
The survey reached a larger number of researchers. This is thanks to the communication of partners with other organisations/bodies that possess similar databases and are willing to assist our purposes by forwarding WeB-InUnion’s questionnaire to their contacts. For example, in Serbia where the brain-drain problem is high in the political agenda, MEF contacted the Ministry which accepted to forward our questionnaire to the Diaspora Scientists whose contact details are kept in its database. Similarly, the Greek General Secretariat for Research and Technology has agreed on forwarding the questionnaire to the Greek Diaspora researchers. Additionally, in Serbia, MEF contacted Prof. Jovan Filipovic from the Faculty of Organizational Sciences. Prof. Filipovic has a private database of 7000 Serbian researchers in diaspora and he forwarded the questionnaire to his contacts.
This database was used during the 2nd period to forward a questionnaire whose main objective was to identify possible motives for repatriation or possible motives to enhance distant collaboration among diaspora researchers and their home country.

The consortium prepared a thorough questionnaire aiming to answer crucial questions covering all stages, from moving out of the home country to moving back to it. The questionnaire was divided in 5 main sections:
1) Identification of pull/push factors
2) Likelihood/reasons to leave current country of residence
3) Motives for repatriation
4) Forms of collaboration with home country’s research community
5) Demographics

The questionnaire was translated to the national languages and sent to the contact details of the database on 8/4/2014. It is estimated that more than 2000 diaspora researchers received the questionnaire. The response rate was about 20% but it was not divided equally to all participating countries. While some countries received more than 150 responses, some others received a small amount of responses making the analysis and the extract of conclusions difficult. So in order to increase the reliability of the results, the consortium decided to interview policy makers and members of the nationals consulting groups on this matter. Their answers were then compared with the results of the survey.
Upon finalization of the survey, the consortium constructed a template in order to create national reports that would share a common structure.
Using this template, partners created 7 national reports, most of which had the structure below:
1) Historical information of immigration
2) Past/current national policies or initiative on the matter
3) Interview with policy makers and members of the consulting group
4) Analysis of the survey
5) Recommendations to motivate researchers move back to their home country or, in cases that this is not possible, forms to enhance the collaborations with the home country

One interesting fact that came up from the compilation of the national reports is that, the participating countries share a lot of similarities. For example, they have a significant brain-drain problem, the national initiatives are limited and, according to the findings of the surveys, their diaspora researchers share the same views. Findings of the survey are presented in detail in the 7 national reports (D4.2) nevertheless key, common to all countries, findings are listed below:

1) Top reasons to leave the home country (push factors)
a. Lack of opportunities for carrying out research
b. Poor income
c. Promotions based on unprofessional criteria

2) Top reasons to select the country of residence (pull factors)
a. Work environment respecting researcher’s profession
b. An opportunity to gain international work experience
c. High quality education

3) Top motives for repatriation
a. Prospects for career development
b. High level environment for scientific activities
c. Possibility to combine activities in home country and abroad

4) Most popular forms of collaboration with home country
a. Information exchange between your current research team and national team you worked in before
b. Participation in joint research projects
c. Joint publications

The 7 national reports were followed by a synthesis report that provides a concise view of the current situation in the region, presents the similarities and differences among countries and compiles the recommendations that would let governments reach out to their scientific diaspora and consequently increase the capacity of their research community.
The database was not used only for the purposes of the survey. It was used to send to the Scientific Diaspora e-newsletters (2 in total) to inform them about the current situation concerning research in their home countries, new initiatives and possible calls for joint projects.
First e-newsletter was prepared on 25.2.2014 and revised according to the feedback of the partners. It was also published on the web address:
Confirmations about sending (end of February to mid of March) were received by HR, ME, GR, RS and MK. Status of BA and AL related to sending the newsletters is not known.
Four spikes were noted in the Google Analytics visitors’ stats in the period of Newsletter #1 sending. Feb 3rd, Feb 20th, Feb 25th and Mar 19th, with total of 52 sessions, or 50% of all sessions in two months. Sessions in this period originated mostly from US, Switzerland, UK, Germany, Belgium and Poland (in this order). In period of two months after first sending, the total number of sessions on the website was 162, comparing to 41 in the following two months, demonstrating the effect of the newsletter #1.
Second newsletter was prepared and shared with the partners on 25.9.2014. It was also published on the web address:
Sending out started on 2.10.2014 when it was sent to the Serbian scientific diaspora contacts.

In the following month, two spikes were noted in the Google Analytics visitors’ stats, namely on Oct 2nd and Oct 14th, with total of 28 sessions, or 20% of all sessions in period of two months after the first sending. Sessions in this period originated mostly from US, UK, Japan, Canada, Germany, Italy, Argentina, Australia and Netherlands (in this order). In period of two months after first sending, the total number of sessions on the website was 128.
Based on the agreement among the members of the Steering Committee of WeB-InUnion project, the third newsletter was sent in a form of a regular email with the attached synthesis report on the scientific diaspora in the region. This email was sent out by the partners, in November 2014. Since the newsletter did not present any links to the specific content published on the WeB-InUnion website, no impact to the visit rate was expected, thus it was not analyzed.

Potential Impact:
It is often argued that research and innovation are possible solutions to the societal challenges that EU is currently facing. Underdevelopment, high unemployment rates and environmental degradation require immediate response which EU seeks through research and innovation.
Nevertheless, while Europe has great research potentials, some structural weaknesses prevent Europe from excelling even more in research results and, consequently, becoming the world’s most dynamic knowledge-based economy.
Frequently, high level of fragmentation, duplication of efforts, unsatisfactory framework conditions and ambiguous recruitment processes are identified as these “structural weaknesses”.
With the work carried out by the WeB-InUnion project, the partners’ goal was to investigate the current situation, in respect to the aforementioned weaknesses, in the much troubled Western Balkans region. The results of the investigation was followed by concrete and feasible solutions for the alleviation of the identified problems. Throughout this process, all partners maintained strong relations with national policy makers in an effort to sensitize them and implement the proposed solutions. Furthermore, the promotional activities of the project informed a great part of the national research community (universities, research organisations, researchers) about the research policies of the EU, thus contributing to narrowing the gap among the more advanced –scientifically- countries of the Union and the less developed ones.
Last but not least, WeB-InUnion’s additional ambition is to set an example of regional collaboration among national EURAXESS networks. The consortium of the project is consisted of organisations coming from the same region but, at the same time, also belonging to the EURAXESS family. Throughout the work that will be carried out in the framework of the project, partners are expected to enhance their strong collaboration and assist in solving common problems of the region. This successful cooperation is expected to be followed by national EURAXESS networks pertaining in similar regions (e.g. Scandinavia, Baltic countries, etc.) and lead them to analogous collaborations against common problems that affect their countries

List of Websites: