The most advanced RIs are highly expensive equipment, facilities or databanks that go beyond the economic capabilities of a single country, and therefore are established and operated in international cooperation. To ensure access to such infrastructures, the National Research, Development and Innovation Office (NRDI Office) spends around HUF 3 billion annually on joining and maintaining membership in international research infrastructures.
In recent years, the NRDI Office has joined several international research infrastructures and has been actively participating in several professional collaborations and policy-enabling organisations to facilitate the involvement of Hungarian RDI professionals in the international scientific community.
The NRDI Office’s strategic objectives in membership funding
When deciding on funding international memberships, priority will be given to those organizations that provide access to cutting-edge research opportunities for Hungarian researchers, enabling them to reach new scientific results. It is also important to increase the ability of the research institutes and universities interested in a given international research infrastructure to finance their membership from own funds in addition to the central budget contributions, and to increase the share of in-kind contributions (e.g. by supplying equipment and services) in Hungary’s contribution to the international membership fees.
In order to ensure the proper and effective utilisation of funds, the NRDI Office considers it a priority to monitor on an annual basis the benefits of membership in various organisations by looking at the achievements and expenditure in the specific R&D fields, and to ensure that the resulting public benefits are not only enjoyed by the beneficiaries but also by the wider research community, society and decision-makers competent in the funding of science.
The function of the National Research Infrastructure Committee
The National Research Infrastructure Committee (NRIC) participates in the discharge of the public duties of the NRDI Office relating to the sustainable development and internationalisation of Hungarian research infrastructures. Following the science domains classified by the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI), the NRIC is a body of prominent Hungarian scientists that expresses opinions and makes proposals to government decision-makers in matters relating to Hungarian RIs.
The committee is responsible for registering domestic research infrastructures and identifying development needs, for planning cooperation with foreign research infrastructures, and for monitoring scientific performance resulting from such cooperation.
National Research Infrastructure Roadmap, 2018
The NRIC contributed to the National Research Infrastructure Roadmap published in 2018, in line with the ESFRI Roadmap, that outlines the situation of research infrastructures and infrastructure groups in Hungary, the country’s membership and participation in international research infrastructures, the most significant RI developments in recent years, and a set of criteria for monitoring and evaluating RIs to lay the foundations of further development. The NRDI Office relies on this document to develop a proposal, in collaboration with the domestic scientific community, for a national research infrastructure strategy that ensures that available RDI funds are utilised in a way that best serves the expectations of the research community and the needs of society in terms of national infrastructure development and the expected results of membership in international infrastructures.
European cooperation in developing research infrastructures
Founded by the European Commission in 2002, the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI) is an important instrument in European scientific integration. It aims to strengthen the coherence and strategic approach of the EU’s RDI policy on RDI and to launch initiatives promoting the more efficient use of RIs. Last updated in 2018, its Roadmap ESFRI Roadmap sets the framework for the development of research infrastructures of pan-European interest. The document sets the objective that projects new should be completed in ten years, should be realistically sustainable, and should ensure maximum ROI from the perspectives of science, innovation, education, socio-economic benefits and competitiveness. Several of the 18 projects and 37 landmarks in the document have been implemented with Hungarian contribution, and/or Hungarian researchers benefit from the membership.
Membership in international RDI organisations financed by the NRDI Office
The current fees of membership in international RDI organisations and the resulting benefits are summarised in a table. In terms of function, the memberships encompass three major areas.
- The most advanced international research infrastructures are highly expensive equipment, facilities or databanks that go beyond the economic capabilities of a single country, and therefore are established and operated in international cooperation. As access to world-class research infrastructures is essential for Hungarian researchers to take part in cutting-edge international research, the NRDI Office has joined several international infrastructures in recent years. Our membership in the European Spallation Source (ESS), currently under construction, offers a promising new financing model with an increased share of in-kind contribution: 70% of Hungary’s EUR 1.6 million membership fee to be paid for the construction period will be spent on purchase orders to Hungarian research centres, SMEs and large companies; so more than two-thirds of the country’s contribution is reinvested in the domestic R&D sector. Apart from granting access to new research findings, Hungary’s membership in international organisations also promotes closer cooperation between domestic research groups, boosts domestic innovation and knowledge sharing with the business sector, and helps to tackle wide-scale social problems. Membership in large international research infrastructures enables Hungarian researchers to participate in world-class experiments in physical and engineering sciences, biological research, and social innovation.
- Professional cooperation programmes provide coordinated research and further training opportunities for Hungarian researchers mostly in specific fields (e.g. VKI), or development frameworks and funding for marketable innovative ideas (COST, EUREKA, AAL). The industrial and technological research cooperation programmes of EUREKA and EUROSTARS provide an excellent opportunity to involve businesses in R&D projects in any field of science. In return for the annual membership fee, which is based on professional partnerships, the direct-access development funds received by successful Hungarian applicants often greatly outweigh the amount of the membership fee. For instance, in 2017 the COST programme granted EUR 480,000 for the networking of Hungarian researchers, for an annual membership fee of EUR 6,800.
- Organisations belonging to the third group provide help in making sound RDI-policies and strategic planning by providing data, comprehensive statistics, analyses on global problems affecting Hungary and possible answers, and by sharing best international practices. Good examples include the vast OECD data base and the analytical-synthesizing work of technical committees, or the TAFTIE membership which enables the representation of national interests in matters already in progress or under preparation through the exchange of experience by European innovation agencies. The background knowledge acquired here has many practical and informal benefits for RDI experts and the country.