Discussion Forum: Funding Opportunities for Science and Innovation in the framework of the EU Funds and Programmes

European Movement in Albania in cooperation with the Embassy of the Netherlands in Albania, in the framework of EU Day Project, facilitated an open discussion on June 5th, 2018 about the overall capacity of Albanian institutions and EU funds in the framework of scientific research and innovation.

Ms. Mona Xhexhaj, Programme Director at EMA, emphasized in her opening speech the importance of these EU programs and funding opportunities. She stated that further development of the country could occur by placing an emphasis on increasing skills in every kind of institution and organization in Albania. She explained that the focus of the activity was to gain insight on the funding opportunities for science and innovation through the help of EU funds and programs. This topic was addressed as a proposal from the AIEN network, university representatives, think tanks, and research centres who have gained knowledge based on their experience in the field of research and academia. They identified the numerous problems they face and challenges regarding the EU fund absorption and application process. As Ms. Xhexhaj’underlines, the percentage of research & development expenditure in relation to GDP remains low at around 0.35 % of the GDP in Albania. At the end of 2017, the number of Albanian applicants had increased from 146 to 249 in 2016, but the success rate remains comparatively low (7.9 % compared to 14.7 % overall for Horizon 2020).

Also present was the ambassador of the Netherlands in Albania, Ms. Dewi van de Weerd who welcomed the forum while putting emphasis on the scientific research grants and their importance. In her speech, she stated that states have different approaches to funding scientific research, but the important thing for Albania is to increase the number of projects supported by EU programmes. Attracting foreign grants increases the cooperation between the countries and serves to exchange experiences and ideas between partners.

The guest of the forum was Ms. Marjan Kreijn, Director of Project Management at Delft University of Technology where she leads a team from 30 managerial projects. She spoke about the importance of EU programmes and research with a main focus on Horizon 2020 and its role in scientific research with an overall goal to make Europe more competitive at international level. She pointed out that the application for grants and funding needed to be on an institutional level rather than at individual level. By applying this way, the possibility of benefitting from the grant will be significantly higher. She also explained that must be a greater focus on projects, in which organizations, universities, or partners in either national or international levels cooperate closely with each-other. This association of several organizations is a very important step that automatically creates contacts with other partners, which is determinant in the planning stages of project proposals.

A discussion took place with participants who were mostly new researchers, lecturers, and academic representatives of the universities in Albania. The questions were focused on contacts or topics of interest that have the greatest chance of being accepted into Horizon 2020 and other programmes financed by the European Union. According to Ms. Kreijn, the project and the proposal must be developed quickly and perceived in such a way that will serve the public interest and its significant challenges regarding such topics like: food security, environmental protection, technological developments, etc. Also, she emphasized the role of the national coordinator to distribute information on project proposals as well as to raise awareness on the importance of such programs.

Another interesting question was about the involvement of Southeast Europe and the Western Balkans and how they could achieve success with these grants. Ms. Kreijn showed that Horizon 2020 is not a program of charity but a scientific, merit-based, inclusive program. If the Western Balkan countries bring forth topics of interest to Europe, grant acceptance will be much more likely.

In her closing remarks, she reiterated the importance of cooperation and forming successful network collaborations. She also stated that the tracking of funds and partner organizations is essential before the calls for project proposals. In terms of the application for and planning of projects, it also serves to take the best practices from third countries in order to gain more experience. With these ideas, the European Union hopes to become more competitive in the scientific search field and beyond.