Denmark’s minister of higher education and science Søren Pind met with SciTech Europa at the Big Science Business Forum to outline how his country is supporting scientific excellence and his aim to establish scientific centres with Nobel Prize ambitions.
The Big science market is worth billions of Euro, and the Big Science Business Forum (BSBF) 2018 event in Copenhagen, Denmark – the first conference of its kind in Europe – brought the region’s big science projects together with industry in an effort to better explain how this market can be accessed and, indeed, what is required and what can be offered.
Alongside this, the conference also saw speakers from the policy sphere explaining how both the EU and its member states can assist.
One such speaker was Denmark’s Minister of Higher Education and Science, Søren Pind, who’s presentation was entitled ‘The future belongs to the brave’, met with SciTech Europa at the event where he outlined how his country is supporting Big science.
How is Denmark prioritising science? Are there lessons to be learned from other European countries as to how this is approached? Or perhaps elements of best practice which could be exported?
Denmark is one of very few countries to be publically investing 1% of GDP in science. In addition, we also ensure that industry provides 2%. This means that we are meeting the Barcelona criteria of investing a total of 3% of GDP in research.
Much that we have done has been inspired by the Dutch example of close working relationships between institutions and industry so as to have a bigger impact on innovation. This has been a huge success in the Netherlands despite the fact that, publicly, they invest less money than we do in Denmark.
How is Denmark engaging with industry to ensure that scientific results are commercialised where possible?
That is, of course, one of the challenges for us at the moment. In the past, industry didn’t know how to engage properly with universities and knowledge centres, but that has been opened up and we are now seeing a significant increase in the number of start-ups coming out of Danish universities.
In Denmark, one of our biggest public funds is in the form of an innovation fund wherein companies compete for financing, and that has been a huge success. Moving forwards, the next step will be to get some of the large private foundations to work together with the public foundations and the universities to try to establish scientific centres with Nobel Prize ambitions.
Indeed, the Danish government recently launched a political research and innovation strategy, outlining ambitious objectives for future research and innovation, including calls to establish a Nobel Pact, a desire to distribute research funding to universities with a greater focus on quality, and the creation of better career opportunities for young researchers. How do you hope this to be realised? What challenges do you anticipate will need to be overcome?
In the years just before the financial crisis, Denmark experienced a large surplus and that was invested into science and education in an effort to double the amount of PhDs and increase the amount of people graduating from university by almost double.
Now, we need to establish a new strategy on top of that, extracting what we have learned until now and taking it even further. And to achieve this we need to ensure that private and public entities are working closer together, creating highly skilled scientific environments with the aforementioned Nobel Prize ambitions – not necessarily trying to win Nobel prizes because you can never say that you will do that in science. We need to establish structures where extremely high skilled people are working.
We are trying to establish that, and Denmark is a country with many private foundations, and these institutions should be brought into a closer co-operation so that we can really make a more significant contribution. And this has to be done to Danish standards, making this is a huge ambition.
Is there enough appetite on the part of industry?
Big industry is investing quite heavily, but the investments from smaller and medium sized enterprises is falling a little. We are trying to change that by enhancing the tax benefits obtained for investing in research.
Denmark ranks among the top five OECD countries for scientific impact of publications during the period 2012-2016. What do you believe is the reason for this? How can it be strengthened?
We have been working very hard for a number of years on this; we have been very focused on publications and we have honoured the institutions where their scientists have also focused on publishing their work; this is now part of the way we support our universities in a financial sense, and it works very well.
We now want to make the criteria for this much broader so that it also encompasses the books that some scientists publish instead of papers, for instance.
What are the benefits of the Danish model of allocating funding via a two-pronged approach (a fixed core funding of ongoing research and teaching activities to universities and government research institutions, and external funding)?
There are perhaps two main things to say about this model. Firstly, we have very strong institutions and they get the stability they require; and secondly, the competition for the funding opportunities offered by the Danish foundations is quite fierce and is based on excellence, excellence and excellence; and these two things work very well together.
Danish Minister of Higher Education and Science
This article appeared in SciTech Europa Quarterly issue 27, which was published in June, 2018.