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Building an Excellency Network for Heightening Agricultural ecoNomic researCh and Education in Romania

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - ENHANCE (Building an Excellency Network for Heightening Agricultural ecoNomic researChand Education in Romania)

Reporting period: 2017-04-01 to 2018-12-31

With recent reforms of the academic system, Romanian universities are not only expected to engage in academic training but also in excellent research. Given the experience in other Central and Eastern European countries such reorientation requires complex changes within and outside universities and faces several challenges. Conflicts arise if work load with respect to other tasks will not be reduced adequately in order to allow more time for research. The University of Agronomic Sciences and Veterinary Medicine of Bucharest (USAMV) is no exception in that respect. While being among Romanian’s most competitive agricultural universities, yet at international level and in the agricultural economics discipline, USAMV still struggles to become fully competitive internationally.
The Twinning project ENHANCE represents an innovative approach to foster a more dynamic and balanced research environment by enhancing the possibilities for organizational learning and sustainable capacity building of the Faculty of Management, Economic Engineering in Agriculture and Rural Development (FMIEADR) of USAMV. Three scientifically outstanding centres from Austria (BOKU), Germany (IAMO), and Switzerland (AGROSCOPE) support the faculty in this endeavour.
The general objective of the ENHANCE project has been to fully realise and to further develop the currently existing scientific potential of the agricultural economists at USAMV via different instruments. More specifically, training, exchange of staff and joint research aimed at improving methodological skills. Summer schools offered a platform for junior researchers to challenge their own research with theoretical and methodological advancements in institutional economics and policy analysis. Finally, the project aimed at stimulating an exchange among partners how to evaluate research performance. In the long run, the international visibility and academic reputation of USAMV’s Faculty of Management, Economic Engineering in Agriculture and Rural Development should be increased.
The project served directly the academic reputation of FMIEADR in the field of agricultural economics research, resulting in broadened partnerships and consolidating the faculty’s integration in European research networks and consortia. Indirectly, it generates spill-overs to academic education and better trained graduates of the university which will serve the Romanian agro-food sector and related administrative organisations. Moreover, by installing a Stakeholder Board and an International Scientific Advisory Board, ENHANCE created awareness within the agri-food sector and the scientific community, improving the linkages between education, research and development on the one hand and policy and practice on the other hand.
In order to achieve these objectives, innovative actions across four dimensions were selected by partners:
• Critical assessment of working environment and incentives for internationally competitive research,
• Training sessions for faculty’s staff focusing on methodological and theoretical topics, particularly in the realm of quantitative methods,
• Bilateral exchange of staff between partners to stimulate joint research activities and broaden personal networks, and
• International Summer Schools enabling participants to deal with advanced theoretical and methodological concepts in an applied way.

More specifically, more than 35 scientists from the four partners engaged in at least one of the actions. The following selected results underline the productive and stimulating incentives directly or indirectly initiated by the actions:
- The project stimulated a reflection process about research evaluation within the faculty. A self-evaluation of the organizational structure of the faculty was conducted, in order to identify the institutional challenges. Subsequently, the faculty assessed several quality management tools in research and started an implementation process for the most suitable ones.
- A staff survey was conducted among agricultural economists in all four countries generating insights into aspects like individual research interests, preferences for specific tasks, demand for additional qualification, and an assessment of working conditions and technical support. Results show that work satisfaction hardly differs between respondents.
- The partners elaborated together several third-party funding proposals, some of them putting USAMV into the lead position.
- A number of 12 training sessions were conducted by the international partners with a total number of 233 participants. Each international partner focused on a specific topic in the broad realm of agricultural economics. These training sessions complemented individual, bi- and multilateral scientific training exercises and joint research in the framework of staff exchange and mentorship activities. Written learning materials and online tools were developed to facilitate study and exchange in-between sessions;
- A total of 63.25 months of staff exchange has been conducted and continued after the exchange in the form of a mentorship program:
o 20 stays of Romanian staff in partners’ institutions have been organised, allowing a joint active involvement in running research projects, bringing together researchers from USAMV, AGROSCOPE, BOKU and IAMO.
o 15 stays of partners’ staff have been implemented at USAMV, allowing the active involvement in running research projects and teaching activities;
- Several joint publications have been developed of which up to early 2019 14 papers were accepted and published by international peer-reviewed journals.
- Partners developed a long-term concept and operational realization of an International Summer School targeting especially problems of agricultural development in Central and Eastern Europe. The Summer School took place three times over the lifetime of the project and attracted more than 50 junior researchers. The four partners will continue this Summer School in the future while increasing the active involvement of lecturers from USAMV.
All the implemented actions have been widely disseminated to the scientific and agri-business environment and to the policy makers. An impressive number of Dissemination & Communication (D&C) activities were carried out by all the partners during the implementation of the project using websites, social media, conference presentations, posters and bilateral talks
The primary sector still plays a distinctive role in Romania’s economy. Therefore, agricultural research is among the priorities within Romania’s RDI strategy. Developing research profiles with impact for Romanian’s agricultural and rural development and at the same time with international visibility requires an outstanding level of expertise as well as global exchanges of ideas and methods. The ENHANCE project fostered the knowledge base for a sustainable agricultural and rural development in Romania through the education of highly skilled and methodologically knowledgeable Romanian agricultural economic researchers as well as, indirectly, benefitting academic training of future decision makers in the agro-food sector and agricultural administration.