The annual RIO Country Report offers an analysis of the R&I system in Cyprus, including relevant policies and funding, with particular focus on topics critical for EU policies. The report identifies the main challenges of the Cypriot research and innovation system and assesses the policy response.
The National Council for Research and Innovation (NCRI), composed of six cabinet ministers, is the top-level body in Cypriot R&I governance and responsible for formulating long-term strategy. Since 2007, it has met only once, without taking any policy decisions. Similarly, the Cyprus Scientific Council (CSC), which is the country's main R&I advisory body composed of 19 internationally recognised scientists, has met only a few times since its establishment in 2010, mostly without the necessary quorum to adopt recommendation. Its only formal decision was endorsement of the EU2020 R&I intensity target. As a consequence, R&I governance lacks guidance and vision, as well as a coherent strategy. Funding programmes used to allow for proposal submissions in any subject, which encouraged uptake of R&D activities in many different fields. This was initially intended to activate as strong and diverse research dynamics as possible, but has led to funding being spread thinly over many research areas without regard for the country's competitive advantages and the economy's small size.
These shortcomings in strategic governance are compounded by the absence of an evaluation culture at this level. Whereas evaluations of individual proposals and projects are carried out conforming to FP7 and Structural Funds procedures, and are deemed largely efficient, tools for strategy and policy design and adaptation are underdeveloped. Systematic programme evaluations or foresight exercises are not being undertaken. This weakens the system's capacity to react to changes in the economic situation or in funding recipients' needs.
A National Committee for Research, Innovation and Technological Development (NCRITD, not to be confused with NCRI mentioned in the description above) was created in 2013 to prepare suggestions on a new R&I structure and governance. It presented its report to the government in spring 2014. For top-level governance, it recommended the creation of the post of a Commissioner of Entrepreneurship and Innovation who is to hold political responsibility for R&I strategy and policy, and to be advised by a National Council of Research, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which designs and monitors R&D strategy.
Since 2015, the country's Smart Specialisation Strategy (Cyprus consists of a single region) doubles as the national R&I strategy. It was developed jointly by the Directorate General for European Programmes, Coordination and Development (the main body responsible for research policy implementation), the Research Promotion Foundation (main funding agency) and the Cyprus University of Technology, thus involving also research funders and performers. The strategy was formally submitted to the EC in December 2014 after having passed a peer review, and was approved in July 2015. It establishes as thematic priority areas tourism, energy (mainly solar), agriculture/food, construction/building materials, maritime transport, and health; and the cross-sectoral priorities environment, ICT, social innovation and general application technologies. Specific measures and concrete sub-fields are listed under each priority, complemented with sketches of corresponding programmes, indicative budgets and implementation timetables. The strategy is fully compatible with the 2014-2020 Operational Programme for Competitive and Sustainable Growth. It will largely be implemented through the 2015-2020 R&I framework programme ("Desmi"), which was published in July and was expected to be launched in December 2015. The preparation of Desmi involved extensive consultations with stakeholders (public and private universities, public research organisations, enterprises, chambers of commerce, NGOs).
The Cyprus Agency of Quality Assurance and Accreditation in Higher Education has been established in 2015. Its task is to ensure and evaluate the quality of higher education in the country, and to identify weaknesses and disadvantages of the higher education system.
A political decision is still to be made on how to implement the NCRITD recommendations, making the prospects for swift implementation difficult to assess. On the development of programme evaluation systems and foresight capacities, no tangible progress has been made. However, the establishment of the Cyprus Agency of Quality Assurance and Accreditation in Higher Education is a positive first step in the right direction.
In the absence of a stand-alone national R&I strategy, the Smart Specialisation Strategy represents at least in the shorter term a usable substitute that can guide policy formulation and development. While its choice of priority areas seems very broad, it identifies concrete sub-fields for specialisation and sets out a plan for implementation. This result seems to have been greatly facilitated by the May 2014 peer review, which also led to improvements in plans for how to monitor and measure RIS3 implementation (S3 Platform 2014). Apart from "construction/building materials", which could be a result of path-dependence following the pre-crisis construction boom, the priority areas seem to well reflect Cyprus' competitive advantages and have received favourable reviews from peer evaluators and the EC. The implementation of the smart specialisation strategy might be facilitated by the R&I system's young age, which implies few institutional rigidities.