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Slovakia - RIO Country Report

RIO Country Report Slovak Republic 2015

The annual RIO Country Report offers an analysis of the R&I system in the Slovak Republic, including relevant policies and funding, with particular focus on topics critical for EU policies. The report identifies the main challenges of the Slovak research and innovation system and assesses the policy response.

R&I Challenges
Improve the R&I governance
Challenge description: 

The Slovak Republic fares modestly in the international comparison of public governance quality and effectiveness of public administration with a high turnover of civil servants due to government changes and underdeveloped analytical capacities. It has also a fragmented R&I policy governance and there are limited synergies between the ministries and the eight government agencies support R&D and innovation. This may lead to a lack of coordination and dispersion of limited financial resources.

The institutional finance for R&I is provided by the Slovak Government, yet the Slovak Republic finances most of its R&I policy from EU Structural Funds. This may raise questions about the long-term sustainability of this funding model. The majority of the Structural Funds in 2007-2013 were invested in building research, applied and industry research was also supported from Structural Funds, albeit on a smaller scale.

There are no regional R&I policies as the degree of regional institutional autonomy is low. All the regions built their Regional Innovation Strategies by 2015, however their impact is limited, since it is not mandatory for the central government to consider the targets and the objectives set in regional planning documents.

The institutional and project finance for research is channelled via agencies of the central government (VEGA, KEGA, SBA, SIEA, SRDA, Research Agency). No regional policy measures are envisaged in the operational programmes (except for allocations to the Bratislava Region). The fragmented and sub-efficient RD&I support system may partly explain the low participation of domestic enterprises in R&D activities.

Policy Response: 

The introduction of the Slovak Government Council for Research, Development and Innovations (SGCSTI) in 2013 provided a high-level structure bringing together main ministries responsible for R&I policy and the main research performer – the Slovak Academy of Sciences (SAS). The SGCSTI prepared a set of strategic documents, namely the newly adopted Research and Innovation Strategy for Smart Specialisation (RIS3) of the Slovak Republic (2013-2014) that paves the way for a more focused and centralised governance and announces several important reforms, e.g. the creation of a GCSTI Standing Committee for the RIS3 strategy.

The National Reform Programme (NRP) 2015 foresees significant changes, including the merger of numerous funding agencies into the Agency of Research and the Agency of Technology, as well as the transforming of the Slovak Academy of Sciences (SAS) institutes, budgetary and subordinate organisations into public research institutes (PRI). The initial draft of the NRP envisaged nine PRI, but the Slovak Government did not approve the Law on the PRI by May 2016 and, thus, this concept was not implemented.

The National Reform Programme (NRP) 2016 foresees that after the adoption of the RIS3, the implementation of individual measures will begin with the aim of establishing structural changes in science and research. The measures will be mainly focused on the targeted use and the stabilisation of public funds and support for the engagement of private sector in R&D activities. Financing will be focused on increasing the quality of research, promoting the infrastructure built from EU funds and connecting universities, science academies, research institutions and partners from the industry sector.

Policy assessment: 

The adoption of the Action Plan to implement the RIS3 strategy is still pending and the merger of the funding agencies was announced last year, but it is not implemented yet.

There were no functional regional systems of innovation governance by end of 2015 in the Slovak Republic and there was no progress in building a regional system of innovation governance. There were no major changes in the layout of competences in R&I policies between the central and regional governments.

The RIS3 announced important reforms such as the reform of the higher education, reform of the Slovak Academy of Sciences and the reform of the secondary education (dual education aimed at vocational training). Up to now, the government started only the reform of the secondary education, whereas the other reforms were delayed.

Improve the quality of the science base
Challenge description: 

The Slovak Republic ranks among the more modest research performers in the EU, demonstrated by indicators such as the percentage of the top 10% most highly cited publications for the period 2000-2013 (5.73% compared with 7.34% in the Czech Republic and 13.1% in Germany) and the total number of patent applications by the Patent Cooperation Treaty (48 compared to 168 in the Czech Republic and 17.577 in Germany). The Research Excellence Composite Indicator places the Slovak Republic markedly behind the leading EU Members States in terms of research excellence; however, the country's performance has improved notably since 2007.

Public-private partnerships have had a limited role in leveraging additional funding. The funding allocation is mostly channelled to non-oriented research and general university funds through institutional funding. The Slovak Republic has one of the lowest rates of public spending on higher education in the EU.

Monitoring mechanisms in place, based on output indicators and international benchmarking try to evaluate the performance of public research organisations, higher education institutions and research programmes and projects, but they do not assess funding efficiency. The funding of the R&I system is not focused on specific themes and economic sectors. The country is not sufficiently attractive for foreign researchers. Only 579 foreign nationals worked in the public sector in 2014, i.e. 2.7% of the total. Relatively low wages, low quality research infrastructures and a language barrier may explain the low inward researchers' mobility rates.

Policy Response: 

The Research and Innovation Strategy for Smart Specialisation of the Slovak Republic (RIS3) and the National Reform Programmes (NRP) 2014, 2015 and 2016 set as goals to raise the quality of research, promote the use of the infrastructure built from EU funds, connect research institutions and industrial partners and commercialise scientific results.

The NRP 2014 discloses that expenditure from the state budget will be raised mainly in education, R&D and transport infrastructure. However, the plans formulated in policy documents have not been enforced yet. In June 2015 the government agreed on an increased budget for the Slovak Academy of Sciences (SAS) for the following three years.

The Slovak Government's Phoenix Strategy seeks to improve researcher mobility, encourage collaborative projects, attract foreign researchers and return migration. Mobility centres, the National Scholarship Programme and the EC EURAXESS portals offer access to global researcher networks. In addition, the Slovak Republic’s Research and Development Agency (SDRA) supports various international co-operation projects.

Policy assessment: 

The performance of the research system in the Slovak Republic is slowed down by the lack of consistent long-term planning and of a financing model that stimulates excellence and best practice in research management. This may be improved by creating a human resources strategy for public research organisations with a transparent selection of people and with regular assessments performed by peers and external evaluators. The effects and the progress of mobility policy measures may be monitored and reviewed more closely.

The Ministry of Education, Science, Research and Sports (MESRS) and the Accreditation Commission have implemented several initiatives aimed at increasing excellence in the Slovak science. The MESRS has closed one private HEI and has abolished two study programmes in another HEI. The Accreditation Commission has stopped a high number of study programmes. However, a comprehensive reform of the evaluation criteria for the HEIs is still missing.

Increase private innovation outputs and R&D investments
Challenge description: 

One of the most important barriers to develop a strong private R&D sector and promote innovation is the dual economy. In the Slovak Republic multinational companies (MNCs) have high productivity, but lack in-house research activities. In spite of its past FDI competitive advantage and production process sophistication, the country has not been very successful in increasing employment in R&D activities and in sectors related to exports of knowledge-intensive services. Thanks to MNCs the country has an increasing share of high-tech exports (consumer electronics) compared with its neighbours and a high share of medium high-tech export (automotive), but there is only a very low number of Slovak SMEs innovating in-house and those that do innovate do not collaborate with others (Innovation Union Scoreboard 2015).

Policy Response: 

Measures to support innovation-oriented enterprises and the emergence of start-ups were adopted recently. A law introducing additional tax deductions for private companies investing in R&D entered into force in January 2015. The new tax deductions permit companies investing in R&D to reduce their tax bases with an additional 25% of their R&D expenditure, 25% of their wage for R&D employees and 25 % of the yearly R&D expenditures increase. A Concept paper for supporting start-ups was adopted in June 2015. The concept identifies the strategic objectives for the support of start-ups in the Slovak Republic: creating favourable conditions for entrepreneurship (a regulatory environment without unnecessary obstacles to the creation and operation of start-ups on the market), establishing and providing support services to strengthen the start-up ecosystem and financing the so-called 'valley of the death' phase of business initiatives (the point where most start-ups fail).

The Slovak Republic participates in the JEREMIE initiative, which provides risk capital to support innovations in SMEs. The 2014-2020 Operational Programme Research and Innovation (OPRI) envisages grants and other (revolving) schemes to support start-ups in the knowledge-intensive sectors, business advice and networking, cluster schemes and small business innovation research projects. The OPRI will support 13,000 enterprises and 1,400 start-ups.

Several forms of state aid for foreign investors are in place: discounted prices for land, financial subsidies for acquiring assets, tax credits and grants for the creation of new jobs. According to the Act on Investment Aid (2007) investors can obtain assistance for investment or expansion projects of technology centres. The Act is designed to encourage investments into high value-added products and research and development or into less-developed regions with high unemployment.

Policy assessment: 

It is still early to assess the measures related to tax incentives and start-ups. However, facilitating the access to funds by simplifying administrative rules may be indispensable. The new law on Income Tax stipulates that, in order to obtain the new tax deduction and reduce 25% of their social security and health insurance payments for R&D employees, companies investing in R&D should hire employees that are younger than 26 years and no longer than 2 years after graduation. Only a few young R&D employees can match these criteria, except maybe IT specialists.

The complexity and the administrative burden associated with the JEREMIE initiative often discourage SMEs to apply for it. Even if the OPRI was adopted already in November 2014, its Action Plan has not been approved yet. It is still uncertain whether the state aid regime now in place is enough attractive for investors to perform in-house research.

Strengthen synergies between science and industry
Challenge description: 

A recurring theme in the Country Reports issued in the framework of the European Semester and the subject of CSRs in 2013 and 2014, is the need to address the weak cooperation between science and business. The total research spending (GERD) allocated through business-funded–publicly-performed R&D was 5.1% of GERD in 2011, 1.5% higher than the EU-28 average of 3.6%. Yet, the average percentage of academia-industry co-publications between 2003 and 2013 is 0.9%, far below the EU-28 average of 2.2%. In 2013 the Slovak Republic had 6.8 public-private co-publications per million of population compared with 29 for the EU-28 (17.5 for Czech Republic, 12.8 for Hungary) (Innovation Union Scoreboard 2015).

Data on labour markets and human resources show that foreign MNCs and local SMEs active in low-medium tech industries are not recruiting highly skilled R&D personnel. The latest available Eurostat data show that the Slovak Republic has a low level of PhD holders that find work in the private sector (1.24% in 2012). In 2012, only 17% of researchers were employed in business and only 0.19% of the active workforce was employed in R&D.

The recent evaluations point to several reasons for the low level of synergies between science and industry. The low absorption capacity from the demand side may result from a large number of SMEs with limited innovation capacities and the preference for technology import both in the case of multinationals and domestic companies. The low interest from the supply side may be due to insufficient incentives for researchers involved in knowledge transfer activities, little support for business creation and development of spin-off companies, a rather limited familiarity of R&D institutions with the business sector cooperation possibilities and a weak performance in patenting and licencing.

Policy Response: 

Policy makers acknowledged the need to improve the framework conditions for knowledge transfer in the 2014-2020 RIS3 and towards the end of the 2007-2013 operational programmes.  The Annex to the 2014 NRP lists a number of relevant policy initiatives in the reform of science and technology, such as "support for building technology transfer centres". The 2007-2013 operational programmes implemented two national projects promoting knowledge transfer, which allocated €530.5m to businesses until December 2014. The Ministry of Education, Science, Research and Sports (MESRS) addressed the issue of low engagement of researchers with business while preparing the framework for the evaluation of the RIS3.

Policy assessment: 

It is too early to assess the policy measures introduced in 2013-2014, however they focused mostly on building the R&I infrastructure and less on building networks and supporting collaboration. Upgrading the infrastructure in certain technological domains as well as building clusters and implementing cluster policies policy may enhance cooperation between academia and industry and knowledge and technology transfer.

The approval of the Action Plan to implement the Operational Programme Research and Innovation (OPRI) and the Action Plan to implement the RIS3 are still pending. Their endorsement is essential for the implementation and the financing of measures aimed at research results commercialisation and the fostering of science-academia collaboration.

The 'Concept paper on the support to start-ups and development of the start-up eco-system' is an important step in building new tools to increase science-business cooperation. Yet, at present, the concept has only a strategic character and a follow-up with concrete policy measures and action plans may ensure its timely implementation.

Chapters
1. Overview of the R&I system

The Slovak gross expenditure on research and development (GERD) was €669.6m (0.89% of GDP) in 2014 (2013: €610.9 and 0.83% GDP). The Slovak Government adopted the ‘Concept paper for the support of start-ups and the development of the start-up ecosystem in the Slovak Republic’ on 10 June 2015 which intends to react on the current status and existing challenges, take a comprehensive and coordinated approach on the topic and avoid fragmented or ad-hoc activities. This may be potentially a promising initiative since the support to the creation and early development phase of innovative enterprises has not been articulated before in the Slovak research and innovation policies. In July 2015, the Slovak Republic adopted a programme to support the return of Slovak professionals from abroad. Even though the results are not significant yet, it is a noteworthy initiative which may also support the return of Slovak scientists home. The Slovak Republic is progressing well in building clusters and implementing clustering policies.

2. Recent developments in research and innovation policy and systems

Key recent developments in the Slovak R&I system include:

  • The new law on Income Tax which includes new tax reliefs for R&D entered into force in January 2015.
  • The Slovak government approved in June 2015 the Concept Paper for supporting start-ups proposed by the Ministry of Finance. Its aim is to strengthen the business environment and create conditions to encourage the start-ups ecosystem.
  • The Slovak Government renamed the Agency for the Structural Funds of the European Union (ASFEU) to the Research Agency (RA). The agency should create conditions for the participation of Slovak research teams in the ERA in general, and in the ESFRI, EITI, technology platforms and Horizon 2020 in particular.
3. Public and private funding of R&I and expenditure

The public expenditure on R&D stagnated in Slovakia since 2009. The Slovak Government kept support to HEIS almost unchanged, while support to the Slovak Academy of Sciences decreased in nominal terms since 2010. Since 2008 foreign resources became increasingly important for funding R&D in Slovakia. The European Commission was a prime foreign funder for the Slovak system of research and innovation. The Slovak research bodies obtained funding €78.0m from the FP7 projects in period 2007-2014. The Slovak Republic benefited from the Structural Funds much more than from the Framework Programmes. The total indicative budget for four operational programmes associated with R&I was €2124.4m in period 2007-2013/2015. The total indicative allocation by the OPRI is €3707m for period 2014-2020 (of which €2268m is provided by the EC and €1440 is national co-financing). The promotion of science and innovation ranks to the main funding priorities of the Slovak Republic in period 2014-2020.

4. Quality of science base and priorities of the European Research Area

The Eurostat data on the national public funding to transnationally co-ordinated R&D indicate Slovakia spent €6.6m for the joint research agendas in 2014. The amount of funding is scarce to integrate the Slovak science into European and international co-operation networks. The Slovak research policies lacked clear focus on the joint research agendas addressing grand challenges and joint programming. The Smart Specialisation Strategy notes ‘low participation in joint programming, and Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme’. Slovakia participated in nine out of 31 ERA-NET projects, 18 out of 36 European Technology Platforms and three out of 11 joint programming initiatives. Slovakia also has had no thematic and/or sectoral priorities set for the jointly funded research, but the RIS3 document sets thematic priorities for the whole Slovak system of science and technology.

5. Framework conditions for R&I and science-business cooperation

The 2015 Country Specific Recommendation for the Slovak Republic noted that ‘the poor quality of Slovakia’s business environment reduces the attractiveness of the country for both foreign and domestic investment.

The industry-academia co-operation projects seemed to have low impact on increasing in BERD so far. Basic supply and demand-side policies have been stated in main R&I policies, but synergies between the supply and demand-side policies are rather weak. On the demand side, the Slovak economy is characterised by a dominance of SMEs whose investment in R&D is hindered by a lack of human and financial resources, while the Slovak Republic fails to attract R&D intensive FDI and large international corporations operating in the country tend to perform their R&D in their headquarters. On the supply side, better framework conditions to incentivise and reward academics engaged in co-operation with industry are still missing.

The most recent innovation policies indicate a positive shift towards more sophisticated innovation policies in the near future in terms of new agendas (support to clusters), target groups (MNEs), and modes of funding (innovation vouchers, tax reliefs).

6. Conclusions

The four identified challenges put forward in the executive summary are summarised in the conclusions. The chapter lists relevant policy actions, assesses their appropriateness, efficiency and effectiveness, and provides links to relevant evidence (based on evaluations or empirical analyses).

Geo coverage
Report year
2015
Country Report file
Official publication date
Tuesday, 5 July, 2016
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