A recent study published by European researchers found that eight out of ten EU-funded Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) projects generate “radically new” ideas.
FET aims to convert Europe’s science base into a competitive advantage. The scheme promotes high-risk research with potential breakthroughs that would have significant technological or societal impact. It was created to foster scientific collaboration and exploratory research in promising fields including robotics, quantum technologies, and green technologies.
Prepared by Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute and the Austrian Institute of Technology, the study looked at 224 FET projects completed between 2007 and 2014 in Framework Programme 7. Researchers used bibliometrics, an online survey, and case studies to assess the programmes’ impacts in academia, industrial contexts, and other fields.
The study found that FET projects had beneficial impacts on knowledge production as well as researchers involved in the projects. Nine out of 10 survey participants said that FET had promoted their scientific careers. Additionally, FET projects triggered follow-up research in 86% of cases and resulted in scientific awards in 29% of cases, which the study called “impressive figures for high-risk research”.
A bibliometric analysis identified 4,063 publications related to the programme, including a large number of publications in high-profile journals. This is an average of 18 publications per project, which the authors said is “quite high” for scientific output. The analysis also revealed that 83% of FET projects deal with research ideas that were not previously present in the scientific community and could therefore be considered “radically new”.
The report also highlighted the economic benefits resulting from FET projects. One in four projects led to at least one patent application and 12% of FET projects led to the founding of a spin-off company. This figure is “remarkably high” when compared to other public research funding programmes, according to the study.
The assessment also explored weaknesses of the FET programme. In particular, the authors said it is “seriously underfunded”, leading to very low success rates for applicants. As a result, many deserving researchers are being discouraged from applying for FET funding. The report urged the European Commission to “find a remedy to this situation in order to realise the full range of possible impacts in the future”.
Additionally, the study recommended considering new methods to trace projects’ impacts. Rather than requiring detailed innovation roadmaps as a requirement for funding, the study suggested introducing follow-up documentation requirements regarding the “specific impact pathways” of projects.
The authors said that the results of the study suggest the EU increase the size and budget of FET so that it can “become a major pillar of European research funding”.
FET will receive around €700 million in funding between 2018 and 2020. Although it will likely be included in Framework Programme 9 and run into the 2020s, it may be renamed. FET is expected to be bundled under the new European Innovation Council, along with several other innovation programmes.