Charting the course: leading CESAER through European R&I challenges

Our new President Orla Feely shares insights and reflections from recent events and meetings in Brussels towards shaping the next framework programme for research & innovation
20th March 2024
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It is a great honour to write this editorial as the President of CESAER, having taken up the position on 1 January this year. I am greatly looking forward to serving CESAER as your President, supported in particular by the outstanding work of the Secretariat and our Vice-Presidents Tim Bedford and Jennifer Herek.

I also want to acknowledge the support of my predecessor Rik Van de Walle, Rector of Ghent University and President of CESAER from 2020 to 2023. As Rik took up the position of President, he could not have foreseen that, within weeks, we would be experiencing a global pandemic that would have such dramatic and immediate impact on how we could work and collaborate across our network. Rik steered CESAER with great skill and vision through this and other major disruptions and global events of the past four years. Through his leadership, ably supported by his team in Ghent, he leaves CESAER in a very strong position, for which we are extremely grateful. Rik’s involvement with CESAER continues in his current role as our Envoy to the Belgian Presidency of the EU.

The strength of CESAER’s network and reputation was very clear to me in February when I attended a Science Business conference in Brussels along with our Secretary General, Mattias Björnmalm. The theme of the conference was What’s on the Horizon? Framing the next 40 years of European R&I. Mattias and I were involved in a number of very interesting discussions on this topic, including a meeting with Marc Lemaître, Director-General of DG RTD, in his office. The discussions around the next Framework Programme (FP10 for short) are now underway, with organisations starting to lay out their positions. CESAER of course made an early input last December.

The link between Europe’s research policy and industrial policy is the subject of much current discussion, with a range of perspectives on display on topics such as reindustrialization and competitiveness. The role of excellent fundamental research at the heart of innovation is also a key feature in many submissions. As the strong and united voice of universities of science and technology in Europe, CESAER comes to this discussion with particular strength and credibility. It was clear to me that our input is highly visible and appreciated by many of those across the R&I policy landscape, and notably inside the European Commission and also at its highest levels. We will continue to engage very actively in the discussions around FP10, advocating for the interests of our Members and for a strong and vibrant R&I ecosystem in Europe with universities of science and technology at its core.

We know that the budget for FP10 will be a central issue in deliberations around the programme, and a difficult one. This is exemplified by the recent cut of 2 billion euro to Horizon Europe by the European Council, in order to finance other priorities. We, in CESAER, have added our weight behind the call of the European Parliament for a doubling of the budget for FP10 compared to Horizon Europe. We can only succeed in our budget aspirations by working together across the broader spectrum, with universities and other R&I players joining forces. CESAER can and will continue be a strong and unifying voice here.

In another important recent event, I was delighted to welcome the CESAER Board of Directors and Observers, the Task Force Sustainable Funding and members of the Secretariat to Dublin recently for very constructive meetings. FP10 was again a focus here, and we had an excellent workshop on the topic including Professor Manuel Heitor of IST University of Lisbon, a long-standing and highly valued contributor to our activities in CESAER and Chair of the Expert Group on the interim evaluation of Horizon Europe. We were very grateful for the opportunity to speak with Manuel as part of the process of stakeholder engagement being undertaken by the Expert Group.

This is a very interesting time for universities of science and technology in Europe. I have focused here on the immediate imperative of feeding our perspective into discussions around FP10. In addition to this, we are dealing in our institutions with rapid technological disruption, national changes and global challenges. For me, this makes it more important than ever that we share our insights across members and advocate strongly for our values.

I look forward to leading CESAER to support our members in very tangible ways throughout this time.

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