Newsletter 3 – Editorial ENG
I write this editorial about two weeks after 92 research centres in Portugal received a top-up to their institutional funding. FCT distributed 3 million euros to these research centres, in recognition of their achievements in securing funding from other sources than the FCT. This programme, the first of its kind in Portugal, is in line with one of FCT’s strategic aims: to encourage, support and leverage the international competitiveness of the R&D community in Portugal. This top-up funding is FCT literally putting its money where its mouth is.
We hope to be able to increase the total budget for this programme in the future, and also see more research centres pushing to be eligible for a top-up – it is called “Incentivo” (in English, “Incentive”), after all.
Portugal has come a long way in building excellent research institutions and FCT is committed to sustaining funding for these research centres, based on the principle of matching allocated funds to institutions’ spending capacity and FCT’s imbursement capacity. Thus, FCT has assigned €59 million for core research centre funding in 2013 (€56 million for the strategic projects and €3 million for top-up funding). This amount represents an extra 20% margin over the circa €50 million per year that FCT paid out in 2011 and 2012. In fact, although an initial €80 million per year were budgeted for 2011 and 2012, only about €50 million per year were actually paid out. Under the current economic and financial constraints that Portugal is under, this approach seems rational, and should not affect sustainability of the research centres. Furthermore, as public institutions, funded largely by the taxpayer, FCT and the research community have a duty to be cost-conscious in our spending.
That leading research centres need talented researchers is indisputable, and another strategic goal of FCT. The FCT Investigator programme is one important way of creating a talent-base for ground-breaking research, within well-equipped and supportive research centres. It is a powerful brain-drain antidote for Portugal; indeed, it will even promote brain-gain (read the stories of a few of the new FCT Investigators in this Newsletter) and is a powerful mechanism that research centres have at their disposal to recruit and “hold” the talented researchers they need.
By Summer 2013, 155 new FCT Investigators will take up their positions across the country (rather than the 80 initially proposed). By the end of the year, up to 200 more will be selected and start, and so on until 2016, so that a total of 1 000 new FCT Investigators will “colonise” our R&D community.
Besides the first batch of FCT Investigators, FCT also published the results of the 2012 call for Project Grants at the end of last year. And here too, there was good news: despite an 11% increase in requested funding (compared to 2011), approved funding was 32% up on 2011 – an extra €22 million were awarded, to 635 applications, distributed across research areas. The funded applications include 30 three-year Excellence Grants and 27 three-year Consolidation (infrastructure) Grants, of up to €500 000 each. The success rate of this latest call was 13% (up from 11% in 2011, considering total amount awarded), which is still lower than we wished it to be and we will continue to find ways to increase success rates.
FCT is determined to takes its place as a think-tank for strategic planning around R&D policy, bringing public and private institutions together round the table, to prepare for the challenges that we face. The workshop on the smart-specialisation strategy of the EU, featured in this Newsletter, was the first of many meetings we plan to hold, and we hope to engage scientists from all research fields in the discussions.
All in all, 2012 was better than expected. FCT executed 94% of its budget (€415 million), and paid more money for science than it did in 2011 (€410 million). Furthermore, a higher proportion of its payments went into Portuguese institutions: an extra €34.7 million was paid out for project grants, centre core funding, fellowships and research positions, compared to 2011. We hope to keep it up this year.
We have a busy year ahead. The first FCT PhD Programmes to come out of the call launched in 2012 will start running. It is also the year in which FCT and the R&D community take up the challenge launched at the Ciência 2012 meeting: to review and refine research activities, look for new collaborations, or strengthen existing partnerships, with a view to making the R&D network in Portugal as scientifically competitive as possible on a global scale. The review and call for research centre funding that FCT is preparing to launch in the next few months is based on the rationale that we should build on what has been achieved over the last two decades, make the most of the flexibility of the Portuguese R&D system, to create centres of excellence, that may become leaders in their field. In this way FCT may carry out the governmental mandate to fund both the most talented researchers and internationally competitive research centres.