Opening of national research programs: different national answers to international pressures?

Europe of Knowledge |

Emilia Primeri

In a funding and policy context as deeply changed as the European one, the opening of national research programs has become an important instrument for national governments and funding agencies to increase international collaboration and to improve the quality and efficiency of scientific research. The opening of national research programs refers to the fact that actors who do not belong to a national research space can participate in research funding programs as applicants or co-applicants, whether or not they receive complementary funding (Primeri et al. 2014; Reale et al. 2013) and it represents a complex and multidimensional issue that can assume different forms above and beyond channelling national funding abroad.


In the paperMeasuring the opening of national R&D programs: what indicators for what purposes?” (Primeri et al. 2014), I provide an exploratory analysis of the opening of national research programs in Italy, France and Switzerland, based on data collected within the JOREP (Joint and Open Research Programmes)[i] project. It addresses the following questions: Why and for what purposes national governments decide to open their national research programs to foreign participants? Under what conditions this occurs and how relevant this phenomenon is within the frame of national project funding instruments? Does opening triggers (further) integration of national research systems?


Why the opening of national research programs matters?

Most R&D funding is currently channelled through national programs and the participation of foreign partners in national funding opportunities can be used to promote international research collaboration and to increase the quality of European research via more integration of competences and stronger competition moving beyond the limitations of ‘closed’ national research systems (Barré et al. 2013; Nedeva 2013). In the European Commission’s view, opening helps to reduce the fragmentation of research at the EU level and to support the creation of a truly integrated European Research Area and a European market of knowledge (Optimat 2005; EC 2008).


Looking at the opening of national research programmes can shed light on different strategies behind the internationalization of national funding instruments, as national institutions provide different answers to pressures for increasing internationalization according to highly diversified domestic contexts and the national constellation of actors (Lepori et al. 2007). Flexible internationalization policies and multiple funding measures of national ministries and funding organizations (e.g. individual grant programs, funding of staff and international cooperation funding) are an example.


Strong and light forms of opening

A multidimensional approach to the analysis of the opening of the largest national research programs could help to detect different ways of achieving national goals and objectives through this instrument. Therefore, it is important to identify relevant descriptors and indicators to depict different patterns of opening and contrasting perspectives on policy motivations and goals behind opening decisions. In the paper (Primeri et al. 2014), three sets of descriptors and two indicators are suggested. Descriptors aim at capturing different dimensions and forms of opening, patterns of opening and ”facilitating” factors, while indicators provide insights about the actual level of opening (share of projects with foreign participants and funding abroad on the whole project funding volume).


This fine-grained analysis allows distinguishing between strong and light forms of opening. The former might happen in case of reciprocity between countries and of high complementarity among national research programs, when the national research system is highly internationalized, when requisite competences are not available nationally or the results are not appropriable in economic terms but the collaboration/networking is important. Light forms of opening, which are the majority, indicate the possibility for larger collaborations at the international level allowed by national programs and mostly represent a way for national actors and policies to comply with EU policies and pressures for increasing integration and coordination of national programs and instruments.


What evidence on the opening of national research programs?

Opening is usually a recent phenomenon and rather widespread, as some level of opening increasingly characterize large national research programs. However, the level of openness remains generally quite limited and “lighter” forms are more common than “stronger” ones.


Different levels of “openness” of national research programmes and levels of internationalization of the national research systems are related and they point out the strategic and selective role of national actors (state, agencies, performers) when deciding opening of national research programmes, confirming that institutional arrangements orient national research policies and funding decisions differently although they are facing the same external pressures. Moreover, opening emerges as an additional option for international collaborations or bilateral cooperation agreements to serve national scientific needs, in particular to fulfil national R&D gaps.


So far, opening can represent a highly relevant development in the making of the European Research Area especially as far as it represents a way for national governments to respond to pressure for increasing the coordination of national research policies and international collaboration, accomplished mainly via formal rather than effective engagements, in particular in financial terms. Additionally, this analysis draws the Attention to further policy considerations: the increasing “agencification” of several policy decision processes and the role played by national agencies as strategic actors in national research contexts.


Dr. Emilia Primeri graduated in Political Sciences and has a PhD in Methods and instruments for the evaluation of research. Since February 2008 she is research fellow at IRCRES CNR (former CERIS CNR) collaborating on several European and national research projects: EC RTD Tool on ERA Indicators, EC-JOREP on Joint and Open Programmes, Prest-ENCE From Prestige to Excellence in higher education ANR-FR. Contact:



Barré, R., Henriques, L., Pontikakis, D. and Weber, K. M. (2013) ‘Measuring the integration and coordination dynamics of the European Research Area’, Science and Public Policy, 40: 187–205.

European Commission (2008) ‘A more research-intensive and integrated European Research Area. Science, Technology and Competitiveness key figures report 2008/2009’, Brussels.

Lepori, B., et al. (2007) ‘Indicators for Comparative Analysis of Public Project Funding: Concepts, Implementation and Evaluation’, Research Evaluation, 16(4): 243-55.

Nedeva, M. (2013) ‘Between the global and the national: Organising European science’, Research Policy, 42: 220-30.

Optimat Ltd and VDI/VDE/IT (2005) ‘Examining the Design of National Research Programs’, Study for EC DG Research, December 2005.

Primeri, E., Reale, E., Lepori, B., Laredo, P., Nedeva, M. and Thomas, D. (2014) ‘Measuring the opening of national R&D programs: what indicators for what purposes?’, Research Evaluation, 23(4): 312-26.

Reale, E., Lepori, B., Nedeva, M., Thomas, D. Primeri, E., Chassagneux, E. and Laredo, P. (2013) Understanding the Dynamics of Research Funding Collaboration in the European Research Area. JOREP Final Report, European Commission: Luxembourg. ISBN 978-92-79-29661-1 Doi 10.2777/10945

[i] JOREP (Joint and Open Research Programmes) is a study funded by the EC under the Contract No. RTD/DirC/C3/2010/SI2.561034.