Five years of science in Latvia – increased funding and opportunities for scientists
On 20 June 2018, at the conclusion of the IV World Congress of Latvian Scientists, we agreed that this event, which united scientists and inspired science policymakers and entrepreneurs, must become a tradition. Similar to the Song and Dance Celebration, henceforth the World Congress of Latvian Scientists will take place once every five years.
Five years is also a great reference point in order to reflect on our accomplishments. In June 2023, we will meet at the V World Congress of Latvian Scientists and discuss three fundamental subjects: digital transformation, green transition and the influence of science.
Annual funding is rising
Investment is the bedrock for important achievements. Science and innovations are no exception. Since 2018, State funding for research and development has risen from EUR from 63.9 million in 2018 to EUR 84.31 million in 2021. In turn, total available funding for research and development in Latvia has increased from EUR 186.2 million in 2018 to EUR 232.3 million in 2021. This means that total funds invested in research and development in 2021 amounted to 0.71% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The government has undertaken to increase this funding to 1.50% of GDP by 2027.
State Budget investment in R&D from 2011-2021 (EUR M)
STATE R&D BUDGET HAS STEADILY GROWN / IN 2021, TOTAL R&D INVESTMENTS = 0.71% OF GDP, THE GOAL FOR 2027 IS 1.50% OF GDP
Total state funding for research and development (R&D) / Total R&D funding / Total R&D investment, % of GDP
Source: Ministry of Education and Science data
There are three main types of funding for research and development funding in Latvia:
- scientific activity bases or institutional funding;
- national and international research grant funding;
- public and private sector commissions/contractual studies.
In turn, the main sources of funding are:
- European Union (EU) structural fund funding;
- funding from foreign (including Horizon Europe) research and innovation programmes;
- investment from the commercial sector;
- State Budget funding.
In 2018, the Ministry of Education and Science awarded 21 state science bodies basic science funding in the amount of EUR 25,000,000. This also included EUR 1 million of additional funding for science bodies to cover the transition period until fundamental and applied study projects being. By way of comparison, in 2023 basic funding has already been awarded to scientific institutions in the amount of EUR 38,150,000. The basic science funding programme is the biggest State Budget programme in science, whose objective is provide the funding required for the upkeep and development of the country's universities and scientific institutions. Since 2022, the introduction of a new basic science funding model has commenced whose funding is based on a calculation formula founded on the following prerequisites:
- This funding is only awarded to institutions that are highly rated internationally among scientific institutions (for the remainder – only through consolidation with the most powerful institutions);
- the calculation is based on performance or the ability of scientific institutions to achieve corresponding scientific working results (including in various ways, in accordance with the specifics of the relevant institutions), e.g. based on the scientific institution's capacity, its ability to secure external project funding, contract-based studies in collaboration with businesses, high level scientific working results and growth in human capital. Basic funding is calculated, based on information submitted by financial institutions regarding the results of their scientific activity attained during the previous reporting period, and in line with the funding available in the budget of the Ministry of Science and Education. The calculation is made in accordance with Cabinet Regulations.
Universities are successfully participating in international projects
The most important role in international projects during 2019 was played by Riga Technical University (RTU), Latvian Institute of Organic Synthesis (IOS), University of Latvia (UL), Riga Stradiņš University (RSU) and Latvia University of Life Sciences and Technologies (LULST, formerly known as the Latvian University of Agriculture). These five science bodies have secured 77% of total international funding. The majority of industry-commissioned contractual studies were implemented by the Latvian State Forest Research Institute Silava, RTU and UL, which secured over EUR 3.2 under this metric in 2019.
The RTU, UL Institute of Solid State Physics (ISSP UL), IOS and UL have been quickest to secure Horizon 2020 funding. The RTU has secured EUR 14.7 million, while the ISSP UL has received EUR 13.8 million, the UL has obtained EUR 10.2 million, and the IOS has secured EUR 6.1 million. Moreover, for example, the IOS has been awarded EUR 2.5 million in funding under the Horizon Europe programme ERA Chair project and is the first Latvian institution to do so. This is the first Latvian research organization to be awarded the opportunity to implement an ERA Chair project, thus accomplishing its strategic goals to be one of the best research centres in the EU. ERA Chair is a funding scheme under the European Commission (EC) framework programmes Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe, which supports “Widening” or driving the participation and excellence of new EU states. The objective of this funding is to encourage the introduction of institutional changes and increased research capacity. The IOS will invest this funding in the development of research into natural substances, in order to increase the institute's scientific capacity, consolidate excellence and to enable it to secure a place among Europe's best research centres.
In 2022, Latvian organizations were involved in 474 project applications in the Horizon Europe programme, submitting 466 corresponding projects. 636 Latvian organizations were involved in these project submissions, because one project could involve several Latvian partners. Out of 474 submitted project submissions, 286 were deemed to pass the quality threshold. The EC provided EUR 32.70 million in funding to 115 projects, and thus to 24.27% of projects submitted by Latvian bodies. Of these, six projects are coordinated by Latvian organizations.
Horizon 2020 funding % of total R&D turnover (EUR M)
Top 10 bodies that have secured the most Horizon 2020 funding
CORDIS database data
Source: Ministry of Education and Science data
Interest in the availability of funding from EU funds is immense. For instance, with a view to implementing EU funded projects, in the fifth project selection round of the practical study programme, the Central Finance and Contracting Agency (CFCA) received 84 project applications whose total planned investments come to almost EUR 39 million, which is five times more than the EUR 7.2 million available during this project selection round.
A ministry-implemented support programme for scientists
The Ministry of Education and Science also has the Fundamental and Applied Study Programme, which is a scientific funding programme oriented towards scientific excellence. This is the only state-funding competition that provides funding for fundamental and applied studies freely initiated by scientists. The objective of the programme is to generated new knowledge and technological insights in all branches of sciences, supporting Latvian scientists' most outstanding ideas, as well as ensuring the consistent development of all science sector groups.
In 2023, State Budget funding available for implementation of fundamental and applied research programmes will increase by EUR 1.5 million, whereas in 2024, it will rise by EUR 3 million, and by EUR 4.5 million in 2025 and beyond. By way of comparison, in 2016 the annual funding available through the programme was EUR 4.3 million, but in 2025 it will already be four times greater, reaching EUR 21.4 million annually.
Currently, 43 of the 2022 Fundamental and Applied Research Project Competition projects are being implemented. The additionally allocated State Budget funding in 2023 provided financing for another 15 projects or 18% of projects deemed to be above the quality threshold. 2022 open competition applications were dominated by projects in engineering sciences and technologies, as well as natural sciences. EUR 179.4 million was sought for the implementation of these projects.
Under the aegis of the Latvian Council of Science (LCS)
An important step towards bringing order to the Latvian science sector was taken in 2020 when, in accordance with a Cabinet decree, the LCS assumed control of the State Education Development Agency (SEDA) Science and Research Policy Support Department, which is comprised of four structural units: the International Research Programme Department, the Research and Innovation Policy Support Department (whose LCS department name is – the Post-Doctoral Programme Department), the European Economic Area and Norwegian Programme Department, as well as the Horizon Europe Programme National Contact Point. Lauma Muižniece was appointed as the Head of the LCS, who previously worked in the field of science at the LU, handling matters such the development and implementation of scientific projects, intellectual property management, knowledge and technology transfer, and the commercialization of science. This provided Lauma Muižniece with an introduction to the science sector. Subsequently, she also worked as the Head of the Investment and Development Agency of Latvia's Technology Department.
The operating objective of the LCS is to implement the government's science and technology development policy, fulfilling the requirements stipulated in laws and regulations, as well as providing expertise, implementation and oversight in relation to scientific study programmes and projects with funding from the State Budget, European Union structural funds and other foreign financial instruments. The LCS also oversees the aforementioned Fundamental and Applied Study Programme.
In 2022, in addition to managing research programmes, the LCS conducted oversight of the expenditure of funding in 952 projects with a total budget of over EUR 45 million.
Latvia is implementing activities in order to ensure sustainability. Five areas have been identified, which are embedded in the National Industrial Basic Guidelines for 2021-2027, and in which funding for research, development and innovations will be concentrated during this period:
- biomedicine, medical technologies and pharmacy;
- photonics and smart materials, technologies and engineering systems;
- knowledge-intensive bio-economics;
- smart energy and mobility;
- information and communication technologies.
By 2024 it is planned to allocate up to EUR 12 million to scientific studies in the realm of biomedicine and smart materials. This is provided for by a government-backed state research programme developed by the Ministry of Economics: the Innovation Fund – Industry Research Programme.
In draft legislation supported by the Government “On the State Budget for 2023 and the Budget Framework for 2023, 2024 and 2025”, the medium-term budget policy priority development directions identified include security, education (including science), energy, competitiveness, quality of life, and human and public health. The increase in funding for the Ministry of Education and Science and targeted grants to municipalities to provide funding for measures to be implemented in 2023 is over EUR 180.4 million, thus providing for increased teachers' salaries and driving excellence in higher education, as well as increased science and capacity for the transformation of the economy.
The article was written within ERDF project No. 184.108.40.206/17/I/002 "Integrated national measures to strengthen the representation of Latvian R&D interests in the European Research Area"