Why it’s important
The contribution of Research & Innovation Infrastructure (RI) to boost European capacity, jobs and economic growth is well documented.
Currently, the policy on RI mainly involves the activities of the European Strategy Forum Research Infrastructure (ESFRI), including ESFRI Roadmap projects and landmarks, and the long term sustainability of costly research infrastructures with a pan-European user group. While ESFRI and global research infrastructures are essential for Europe, the current policies overlook a relevant aspect: the role of small- and medium-sized research infrastructures in the research and innovation ecosystem.
More and more scientific disciplines depend on costly technologies and equipment of smaller scale. They provide essential, cutting-edge technological support to thousands of researchers on a day-to-day basis across Europe. Moreover, they develop and implement new technologies and train the next generation of scientists. This group of essential research infrastructures, generally termed small and medium sized research infrastructures, is however suffering from structural support at a European level and even at a national or regional level.
Leading research institutes in their countries, EU-LIFE institutes host 125 small and medium sized research infrastructures with more than 820 staff members that provide a wide spectrum of services to a wide range of internal and external users, both academic and businesses. The range of research infrastructures within these institutes is wide spanning from genomics, proteomics, bioinformatics, NMR, to animal houses, pre-clinical and imaging facilities.
We know that fostering European networks of technological facilities in the next Research Framework Programme Horizon Europe can prove cost-effective enabling access of researchers and innovators to technology and talent (e.g. data analysts) in all corners of Europe. This should be coupled to measures to promote the investment of Member States in research infrastructure such as for example co-funding from these Member States.
The European Commission and other key players recognise the role of “non-ESFRI” research infrastructures and support them to a certain degree. However, EU-LIFE is of the opinion that more can and should be done to promote visibility and support for small and medium sized research infrastructures.
What we are doing
Research infrastructures are at the core of discovery science in the life sciences and at the core of EU-LIFE priorities. We gave a special attention on research infrastructures in our contribution on Horizon Europe’s shaping through our papers “EU-LIFE’s vision for FP9: key priorities” and “Towards better research value in Europe: translating knowledge to innovation”.
Following the International Conference on research Infrastructure (ICRI) hold in Vienna in 2018 that gathered together EU institutions and international stakeholders, we felt that although the discussions were extremely important, they continued to overlook the role of small- and medium-sized research infrastructures in the research and innovation ecosystem.
Therefore, we released a Call for action to the EU member states, the European Commission and ESFRI and we invited interested parties and stakeholders to support this statement.
Following this call, we organized a workshop bringing together relevant stakeholders such as The Guild, Yerun, EUA, LERU, EARTO, CTLS, Science Europe, CESAER, Helmholtz Association in order to join forces for getting better recognition of these significant infrastructures. Our discussion focuses on setting up a proper definition that clearly identifies them and therefore allows for proper recognition and acknowledgement. We also aim to establish an informal coalition of those willing to engage in further promotion of the role of small and medium sized research infrastructures in the RI ecosystem.