The annual RIO Country Report analyses and assesses the development and performance of the Bulgarian national research and innovation system and related policies in the perspective of EU strategy and goals.
The report highlights recent national policy and system developments occurring and assesses the match between national policy priorities and the structural challenges of the research and innovation system. It addresses among others:
Areas highlighted by the Commission's Communication on 'Research and innovation as sources of renewed growth' (COM(2014) 339 final) and its accompanying Staff Working Document 'State of the Innovation Union, taking stock 2010-2014' (SWD(2014 181 final).
The RIO Country Report 2014 builds on the experience of the ERAWATCH project. The ERAWATCH Country Reports from previous years are also available for download on this page.
In 2013 the GDP per capita in purchasing power standard is at 45% of the EU-28 average. The gross domestic expenditure on R&D as percentage of GDP (or the R&D intensity) in Bulgaria remains consistently low (0.65% for 2013), or three times lower than the EU28 average of 2.02% (2013).
There are three distinctive components of the national research and innovation system in Bulgaria with little interaction between them: higher education institutes (HEIs), governed by the Law for Higher Education and the National Evaluation and Accreditation Agency; scientific research organisations under the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences and the Agricultural Academy, and private sector R&D performers, accessing public funding through the National Innovation Fund and EU operational programmes.
The highest policy-making institutions within the national research and innovation system are: the National Assembly with standing committees on education and science, information and communication technologies, economic policy, investment planning, regional policy; the Council of Ministers with consultative councils for innovation, science and innovation, development, credits to students and doctoral candidates, protection of intellectual property rights. At present the Ministry of Education and Science and the National Evaluation and Accreditation Agency supervise 37 public and 14 private HEIs. The Bulgarian Academy of Sciences encompasses 47 scientific institutes, and the Agricultural Academy controls 26 research facilities.
The economic performance of Bulgaria is affected by the relatively low quality of management and entrepreneurial education, weak antimonopoly policy leading to market dominance, and low level of university-industry collaboration in R&D. The internationalisation of Bulgarian firms is very low and the impact of foreign direct investment is limited. The low productivity of labour is due, among others, to the high energy consumption and to the limited investment in the manufacturing sector. The main impediments to growth remain the lack of access to financing, policy instability, inefficient government bureaucracy and corruption.
In 2014, the Council of Ministers approved six new strategic documents that address different aspects of the national research and innovation system in Bulgaria. Although the Innovation Strategy for Smart Specialisation and the National Roadmap for Research Infrastructures represent strong cases for concentration of investment in capabilities, the co-alignment of priorities set in individual strategies is still a challenge.
The National Reform Programme for 2014 envisages increased financing for applied scientific research, incentives to entrepreneurial firms with high value added activities to hire additional labour, encouraging investment for improvement of the scientific infrastructure, and improving the mechanisms for evaluation of scientific outputs.
The National Reform Programme 2014 develops action plans to address the specific national RDI targets for Bulgaria in Europe 2020, such as: meeting the targets for R&D spending, for school dropouts, and for people with a university degree in the age group 30-34. There are insufficient policy measures yet regarding: 1) the higher education reform and strengthening cooperation between education, research and business; 2) implementing an e-government strategy; and 3) improving the start-ups and SMEs access to finance.
The investment trend for the period 2009-2013 shows a decline of the proportion of government funding from 0.31% to 0.21% respectively, and decline in the R&D performed by HEIs. The government budget appropriations or outlays on R&D (GBAORD) by socio-economic objectives shows increase in the R&D appropriation for ‘General advancement of knowledge’, while a decrease for ‘Other civil R&D appropriations’.
The selection of the priorities in the Innovation Strategy for Smart Specialisation are based on Bulgaria’s strategic capabilities in: mechatronics and clean technologies, information and communication technologies, biotechnologies, nano-technologies, creative industries, pharma, and food processing.
There are at present some monitoring and evaluation procedures, but the results from the assessment exercises are not publicly circulated to stakeholders, and are not used directly to influence policy and programme implementation, or to improve the design of funding mechanisms.
Bulgaria, in addition to FP6 and FP7 European collaborative projects, supports a number of bilateral and multilateral initiatives. Research performers are active participants in ERA-NET and the country is represented by 15 organisations among which: four ministries, two academies, and two funding agencies. The Bulgarian Academy of Sciences has been very active in COST and Bulgarian research organisations have been involved in 30 joint calls.
The national labour market for researchers is suppressed both from the demand and the supply side. Most researchers are employed by the public sector. Although there is a marginal decrease of the proportion of researchers in the public sector and an increase of their number in the business sector, this trend is still slow. The Strategy for the Development of Higher Education acknowledges skills shortage in the system, deficiencies in the curriculum, lack of entrepreneurial education and training, and insufficient emphasis on generic and transferable skills.
The National Library has significantly advanced the digitalisation project and there are plans for building the next generation of a broadband communication infrastructure. The initiatives for open access, however, are still in early development stage.
According to the Innovation Scoreboard, although the innovation labour force in Bulgaria represents 75% of the EU average, the proportion of SMEs and networks in the RDI sector is only 22% of the EU average, and the proportion of innovators is only 9% of the EU average.
Measures to promote general entrepreneurship among young people are included in the National Reform Programme 2014. Previous observations for 2004-2008 confirm that only 16% of the Bulgarian SMEs have undertaken innovation activities, which is the lowest in EU.
The distribution of Bulgarian patents across 10 specific technology areas and the high volume of patents in the category ‘others’ (44.6%) demonstrate the wide diversity of technology capabilities in the economy.
The relatively low level of privately funded public R&D (less than €7m for 2013, or only 2.6% of GERD) is an evidence of the barriers for collaboration with the public sector R&D.
The schemes for financing innovation in SMEs are currently under revision in terms of allocation of structural funds across the Ministry of Education and Science and the Ministry of the Economy, and within the new Operational Programme for 2014-2020.
The investment activity in Bulgaria in 2013 declines, which is associated with a fall in the level of buyout deals.
In response to the country specific recommendations, in 2013 special measures were undertaken for improving the access of SMEs to public resources.
The performance indicators demonstrate underperformance, weak capabilities, and insufficient dedicated resources within the national research and innovation system in Bulgaria during the 2008-2013 period. The impact of underfunding, the low level of absorption of EU funds, the lack of systematic monitoring and assessment of performance at national level, and the lack of a coordinated strategic approach at system level has had a negative impact on the performance of the system on all indicators.
The optimisation of the system is required at all levels – from the level of research performers, to the level of funding bodies and support agencies, and to the highest level of integrated strategic platforms for priority setting, smart specialisation, coordinated actions, leveraging resources, complementarity of support and policy instruments.
Currently, there is no provision or policy measure to tackle the deeply engrained separation in scientific activities and doctoral training across the universities and the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. Although there are policy measures to tackle the low level of entrepreneurial skills and the separation between industry and academia, the lack of institutional support and an integration policy framework in bridging these gaps reinforces the fragmentation and the small scale of individual approaches and solutions.