The final conference (Research Managers and Administrators: Key Expertise to Boost the Regional Excellence and Innovation Potential) within the V4+WB Network of Research Managers and Administrators (RMAs) project was successfully held on 30 and 31 March 2022 in Budapest. The conference was organised by HETFA Research Institute and took place at the Budapest University of Technology and Economics. The conference attracted almost 120 participants (in Budapest and online) including RMAs, RMA experts, institution leaders and policy-makers from V4 and Western Balkan countries and beyond the region. The two-day international event provided an opportunity for networking, knowledge exchange and skill development of RMA professionals. The presentations and plenary sessions covered a wide area of topics including the recognition of the RMA profession, its current status and its challenges in the V4+WB countries. The main goal of the event was to raise awareness of the RMA profession and to start a dialogue with policymakers.
The Final Conference of the V4WB RMA Network project was opened jointly by Mr Gabor Balas, CEO of HETFA Research Institute and Dr Levendovszky Janos, Vice-Rector for Science and Innovation of the Budapest University of Technology and Economics. Both of them were delighted to welcome the participants at the event which was, for the majority, the first in-person meeting after the pandemic, and shared institutional examples proving the importance of experienced research managers and well-functioning research offices representing the key factors in achieving better results in the competition for EU funds in the field of research and innovation. Then Ms Virag Zsar, Senior Grant Advisor of HETFA, presented the main achievements of the V4WB RMA Network project funded by the International Visegrad Fund. During its 18-month long duration, 12 webinars were held with the participation of 26 speakers and over 600 people attended from 30 countries. The Online Expert Pool includes now 124 experts from 28 countries in various fields related to research management and administration. Then the Learning Material Platform was also mentioned where all the recording, presentations and some additional educational videos will be made available to provide the best knowledge to the whole community. With regard to the final conference, the additional grant received through the Central European Initiative Cooperation Fund was also acknowledged which enabled the participation of a number of experts from V4 and WB countries and beyond them, from Italy, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Croatia and Albania.
The key-note speech was delivered by Mr Nik Claesen, Managing Director of the European Association of Research Managers and Administrators. His presentations assessed the current situation in Europe from the viewpoint of research management. It reflected the landscape of the national networks, EARMA and BESTPRAC and related it to the EU policy context of science management initiative of the European Commission, the call for the professionalization of science management by the Council. The timeline of related initiatives was also showcased, including the project V4WB RMA Network, and then the RM Roadmap project was introduced which aims to provide the next boost for knowledge development and capacity building for all RMAs across Europe.
The following section related to the profession was started by Dr Susi Poli from the University of Bologna. Her contribution was focused mainly on the topic of doing research into RMA and the relevance behind it. Some exemplary researchers and professionals were showcased which all helped to understand (and shape) our idea of professionalism. The presentation was ended by practical suggestions on selected pieces of research into RMA: which pieces could be the starting point for further research and how reflection on these pieces can be made. Then the floor was taken by Dr Simon Kerridge from the University of Kent/Kerridge Research Consulting. First, he introduced the research project called RAAAP denoting “Research Administration As A Profession” and urged the audience to complete the current questionnaire running in the frame of RAAAP3 – HIBARMA. Afterwards, the presentation showcased some important lessons learnt from the second edition of the questionnaire by comparing the results from Widening and non-Widening countries. Some interesting differences between these country groups were highlighted, for instance, in the field of employment type and status, educational alignment to the subject area of the work, highest academic qualification when being in the profession, and so on. Mr Zygmunt Krasinski from the National Central for Research and Development of Poland shared Polish experience in the field of professional development, training and networking. With that regard, the importance of the EU accession in 2004 and then the Polish presidency of the EU Council in 2007 was highlighted. The role of EARMA and the continuous dialogue with the association in launching the process related to professional development was highlighted. Afterwards, the designing and the launching of postgraduate course training research managers and technology transfer officers were introduced which were running at 17 universities across Poland and completed by more than 400 academic and administrative staff. Regarding the future, the current needs of the RMA profession were also highlighted, such as regular education/certification programmes, the development of research support offices, and the creation of better conditions and more visibility for RMAs and researchers across the country.
The afternoon of 30 March continued with parallel sessions. In the first, Ms Sascha Le Large, from UMGC Research BV offered an interactive session on skill development and peer group coaching as a training tool for professional effectiveness. During the sessions, the intervision method was introduced, which offers an alternative way of dealing with situations at work. Since personal skills development adds to institutional value and capacities, the use of the intervision technique leads to better research support services on behalf of the organisation. Intervision requires a skilled facilitator, a group of 5-8 people sharing responsibility, trust, safety, equality and an open mind. During the simulation exercise, Ms Le Large organized two smaller groups. Each group selected one real-life case and asked open questions from the case provider participant. Then they discussed the case and summarized the outcomes and possible solutions. This was an excellent exercise, because the participants had a personal experience with the intervision method while staying in a safe space and sharing their thoughts and feelings.
In the second parallel session, dealing with financial aspects of research projects and especially Horizon Europe, Mr Per Inge Andresen, team leader and senior adviser at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology – NTNU opened the floor with an extensive overview of general principles and practical examples of budgeting Horizon Europe projects. He made it clear that budgeting is a very iterative process, looking at the same time backwards to historical data and experiences and forward to planning the brand new research exercise; continuously adapting the wish list of objectives and expected results with the conditions represented by the available funding and costs specificities. Dr Mirella Collini and Mr Michele Gasparoli followed from the University of Trento explained the details of changes between Horizon2020 and Horizon Europe methodology in terms of personnel costs eligibility and accounting aspects. A special issue – the case of project-based remuneration for research personnel – was also discussed in detail since this often occurs in Eastern European and Western Balkan universities but hardly fits the classic Horizon concept of academic salaries. The third speech was given by Mr Primoz Petek from the Slovenian Forestry Institute on indirect costs – also known as overhead – and their application in Horizon Europe. Accounting, eligibility and justification of indirect costs were elaborated and discussed, concluding that individual solutions depend on donor preferences as well as institutional settings. Finally, Dr Marija Gacic from BIOIRC and Ms Marija Sola Spasic from the University of Belgrade – the latter also serving as a general moderator for the whole panel – enlightened the audience regarding the differences in providing support to researchers as an RMA and as an NCP (National Contact Point). Their experience and perspective were especially useful and interesting in light of the facts that Serbia is not an EU member state, the legal framework is not yet fully harmonized with that of the EU, access to research grants and funds is more limited and there is no standard RMA education/training available in the country.
The third parallel session, hosted and moderated by Ms Andjela Pepic from the University of Banja Luka reflected on the following question: how to build effective research support? Ms Amela Kurta (from the Center for Development Evaluation of Social Science) shared the benefits of open research infrastructure for early-career social science researchers. She argued that open research infrastructure (RI) leads to better efficiency and use of the existing RIs; better streamlining investments into the future RIs; ensures optimization of access to RIs by industry and wider research community, public sector and civil society; enables and enhances cross-border cooperation; provides an environment for the career development of researchers and improves researchers’ mobility. Mr Ondrej Daniel from Charles University (CUNI) presented the specific model of CUNI for supporting EC-funded research projects by setting up a European Centre that serves as a hub for RMAs and a one-stop-shop for researchers working with various EU grants. Dr Veronika Tamas introduced the internationalisation process of the Centre for Social Sciences at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. In the institution, the road to internationalisation was possible through skills development, increased visibility and motivation, realised step-by-step through proposals, projects and publications. Ms Magdalena Bem-Andrzejewska from the National Centre for Research and Development in her presentation entitled “How to build effective research support on the path towards Horizon Europe? Experience of National Contact Point in Poland” introduced a complex and sophisticated system of NCP network operating in a large country like Poland, across various thematic domains and regional units. The network supports the participation of Polish research organisations, enterprises and other entities in the Horizon Europe FP by sharing information, delivering training and offering networking events, and negotiating rules and procedures for the prospective participants. She also showcased some of the flagship projects emerging with the support of the NCP system. Dr Tomas Dudas from the Pan-European University offered their perspective on the challenges and opportunities of building research support at a private university in Slovakia. Establishing a project office on university-level alleviates the administrative pressure on faculty members and supports the administration of ESF projects It also adds to improving project cooperation among the faculties at the Pan-European University and with external partners. Closing the panel, Ms Natasa Jakominic Marot from the University of Rijeka talked about the difference between management skills and leadership skills and the need, the tools and the advantages of taking up leadership responsibilities in research and RMA teams.
The first day was closed by Dr Sean McCarthy’s (Hyperion Ltd.) speech sharing the profile of research support offices with high success rates, the tricks and hints of their operation and the lessons that are worth taking and learning for Visegrad and Western Balkan countries in RMA development and research support.
The second day of the conference started with an opening note from Ms Krisztina Varju from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Ministerial Commissioner for the Hungarian Presidency of the Visegrad Cooperation in 2021-2022. She highlighted the Presidency’s main focal points – stability, reopening and partnership – and referred to the key collaboration areas of defence, R&D and innovation, energy, climate policy and infrastructure. She addressed the need to cooperate among the Visegrad countries, the EU and Western Balkan countries, building on similarities and supporting each other. The Visegrad countries also have shareable expertise regarding successful V4+ partnerships including research programs, innovation and cooperation with key non-European R&D&I actors.
The following roundtable discussion about the current challenges in the V4+WB innovation ecosystem continued on a similar note – discussed the need to better coordinate among these countries regarding strengths, opportunities and regional specialization strategies in the domain of innovation. The participants were: Dr Ana Jakovljevic, from the Center for the Promotion of Science, Serbia, Ms Branka Savic from the Ministry for Scientific and Technological Development, Higher Education and Information Society, Republic of Srpska, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Dr Istvan Szabo, Vice President for Science and International Affairs, National Research, Development and Innovation Office, Hungary, Mr Sinisa Marcic from the Regional Cooperation Council and Dr Tomas Dudas from the Pan European University in Slovakia. The roundtable discussion was moderated by Ms Renata Anna Jaksa, Head of Division for International Cooperation at HETFA Research Institute. The participants depicted the different innovation ecosystem features and smart skills specialisations characteristic of these countries and agreed on more cooperation needed among the actors within these regions in order to catch up with the R&D and innovation activity level of the more developed EU member states.
A panel discussing funding research and innovation opportunities followed, moderated by Dr Martin Grancay from the Slovak University of Technology. First, Mr Luke Incorvaja – on behalf of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology presented the EIT and discussed the different cooperation opportunities when it comes to innovating jointly with the organization. Ms Marija Sola Spacic from the University of Belgrade came next on stage to share her unique perspective on working together with researchers to identify funding options, to learn the terminology, language and skills needed to apply and to be able to “bring home” the funding. Coming from a small and less developed country than its Western counterparts makes this a compelling task. Being based in Serbia, a non-EU country with limited RMA resources makes these tasks even harder.
After the coffee break, the audience broke apart into 3 parallel sessions.
The parallel session on designing impact and identifying the impact pathways for R&D was moderated by Ms Dominika Rarog-Oslizlok from the Silesian University of Technology. Dr Ellen Schenk, Director Research and Education at the Holland Proton Therapy Centre in Delft (the Netherlands) started the series of presentations with her approach to writing an impact pathway to research results. The key tool is the Logical Framework, which helps to plan the structure of the proposal, while the main focus is on story-telling. Since funding agencies are more and more looking for the scientific and societal impact of research proposals, it is important to have this well-elaborated for the evaluators. This way of reverse thinking- starting from the end at the desired impact and build the application to the beginning is the way to go for writing a competitive impact-driven proposal. Ms Sonila Hasaj from Center for School Leadership talked about impact evaluation and data-driven/evidence-based policy making. In her definition, the impact evaluation is an assessment of the causal effect of a project, program or policy on beneficiaries. It determines the actual contribution of the intervention/ program/ policy; looks at changes in outcomes that directly can be attributed to the program; and wants to determine whether the program directly causes the effect on an outcome. It is definitively not about evaluating personnel or the evaluating performance of individual people or employees. Last but not least, Dr Borbala Schenk, Chief European Research Funding Advisor at the Budapest University of Technology and Economics (BME) shared the results of their Center for University-Industry Cooperation(FIEK) and advised the audience about writing the impact pathway. First, talk (a lot) with the researchers, charts and tables should come next. Second, acknowledge that researchers are already doing impact and stakeholder engagement, they are just not aware that it actually is. Third, make sure to understand and embrace the requirements of the donor when it comes to impacts.
Another parallel section dealt with various cross-cutting issues of Horizon Europe proposals and projects. Moderated by Dr Martin Grancay from the Slovak University of Technology, the panel included Ms Andjela Pepic’s (University of Banja Luka) perspective on embedding the gender dimension in institutional settings and in research proposals. Preparing a gender equality plan is a requirement for many HE actors and advisable for all others, but there are further advantages. Having a GEP brings about institutional change and implementing GEP ensures that researchers are becoming more aware of the importance of the gender dimension in research. Dr Vesna Teofilovic from the University of Novi Sad argued that open science is a benefit to all researchers. She presented the history of open access and the ways, and routes to achieve it. Open access is a key tool in achieving research integrity – reliability, honesty, respect and accountability. Ms Dragana Radulovic from the University of Banja Luka provided specific examples of national initiatives for open science in Europe: the NI4OS & WBC-RRI.NET projects. Moving on from open science to best practices in consortia building, Dr Marta Kuhnova from the Faculty of Social Sciences UCM explained some of the best techniques to use when joining research partnerships. Successful proposals need diverse consortia, involving several different actors of the innovation ecosystem: universities, private research, private sector organisations, but public bodies, and NGOs can also help to achieve higher approval rates. The exact type of partners and the size of the consortium depend on the given call. The ideal project partners are committed to the project, technically competent, trustworthy and proactive. Finally, Ms Maja Skocanic Matovac from the University of Rijeka, University Centre for Research and Innovation presented the impact of participation in a European University Alliance (EUA) – the case and experiences of the University of Rijeka. The EUA transforms and strengthens the European Economic Area; deepens the level of cooperation between universities – learning, studying and doing research not hampered by borders; facilitates the adaptation to the changing European education landscape with inclusive and flexible learning opportunities; raises the international competitiveness of European universities and accelerates the transformation of HEIs in order to increase their impact.
The third parallel session was starting with the presentation of Dr Bojan Vlaški from the University of Banja Luka. Difficulties and possible solutions of doing research in higher education institutions were listed and explained briefly. The most important measures highlighted are, on the one hand, the creation of RMA networks; on the other hand, the strengthening of RMA associations. With that regard, it was discussed that such networks and associations shall start within the institutions, and then they should go beyond the institutions by concluding agreements among various HEIs. Finally, existing ones should be strengthened or the ways to launch new ones should be found. The next speaker was Mr Jan Andersen from the University of Southern Denmark. He argued for the relevance of professionalization which shall pay off at various levels, including the level of the individual, the institution, and last but not least, the profession as such. Then some highlights were shared in the field of RMA training, including the insights regarding the tremendous success of BESTPRACT COST Action. He concluded that the way to build a career path is consisted of a number of steps, including the formulation of a definition, creating awareness, paving the way to legal foundation and professional recognition. All these can provide the basis for the development of professional training opportunities which then will support the building up of a nice career path. Experiences from research management from Czechia were shared by Mr Jaroslav Sip, from the Technical University of Prague. He insisted on that the profession, including its recognition and related training opportunities, are still very much lagging behind in the V4 region. This is proven by the lagging situation of research performing organizations in the EU funded framework programmes. Therefore, the need for the cultivation of a research services environment, the support to RMA professionals, the systematization of RMA training was pointed out – besides the necessity of harmonisation of policies on the field of R&D at national levels, as well as the unified application of legislation and other rules across various granting bodies. The last presentation was held by Ms Virág Zsár, from HETFA Research Institute. She introduced the project ‘foRMAtion: innovative and smart module for potential research managers and administrators in higher education funded by the Erasmus + programme, coordinated by HETFA. The 3-year-long project has reached its last year; most of the outputs are already developed and tested. The most important outputs of the project were the development of an educational module that can be taught at any university to provide a glimpse on the profession and the funding landscape for students, who then can potentially become research managers following their graduation. This year the partnership takes enormous efforts to promote and ensure the possible adoption of the module and other outputs, such as the mentorship and the online learning resources by other universities throughout Europe.
Following the presentations which aimed to provide some teasers for invited decision-makers and institution leaders, the round table discussion was launched with the participation of
- Ms Branka Savic, Head of Department, Ministry for Scientific and Technological Development, Higher Education and Information Society, Republic of Srpska, Bosnia and Herzegovina
- Dr István Szabó, Vice President for Science and International Affairs, National Research, Development and Innovation Office Hungary (NKFIH)
- Mr Dániel Péter, International Visegrad Fund
- Mr Sinisa Marcic, HR Expert, Regional Cooperation Council
- Mr Stephen Jonathan Halligan, Danube Transnational Programme
- Dr Maximilian Stremy, Vice Rector, Slovak University of Technology in Bratislava
- Dr Djordje Markez, Secretary General, University of Banja Luka.
First, invited guests were asked to share activities, measures and funding possibilities that could support the reinforcement of the profession in the region. Following this round, it was concluded that there are multiple ways to gather funding for projects which can support the before mentioned aims – it depends on the fund, and what is the framework they should fit if there is any. Representatives of policymaking and funding bodies also highlighted that even if they launch some grants, there is a lack of interested applicants. Institution leaders showcased exemplary measures providing better conditions for RMAs at the level of their institutions and then in their country, such as the introduction of new rules stimulating the environment or introducing in-house trainings, promotion of the RMA services, and so on. Participants agreed that additional initiatives should come from the RMA community in the form of good practices, recommendations, wish-list – but it is also important to understand the processes of funding bodies and policy-makers to take the momentum and use it for the benefit of the community.
After all parallel sessions were closed, the organisers thanked all participants – speakers and audience members alike – for dedicating their time and efforts to the event. The donors, the International Visegrad Fund and the Central European Initiative were also thanked for their financial support in organising the conference. Technical assistance and support were provided by BME-FIEK (the Budapest University of Technology)
HETFA Research Institute, as the consortium leader for the project behind the event, promised to keep on the joint exercise and to look for further cooperation opportunities to strengthen the research management and administration capacities of the V4 and the Western Balkan regions, therefore adding to R&D, innovation and deeper integration into the European innovation ecosystem.
More information, recording and full presentations can be found online at https://hetfa.eu/2022/04/the-final-conference-of-the-v4wb-rma-network-project-was-successfully-held/.