The annual RIO Country Report analyses and assesses the development and performance of the Czech 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:
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.
The Czech Republic is a medium size Central European country with an area of 78.9 thousands square kilometres and population of 10.5 million people. In 2013, gross domestic product (GDP) per capita in purchasing power standards reached €20,600, 80% of the EU28 average. After real GDP dropped in the peak of the crisis by 4.5% in 2009, the economy slowly recovered by 2.5% in 2010 and 1.8% and 2011; however, the GDP dropped by 1.0% in 2012 and 0.9% in 2013 again (Eurostat, December 2014).
Despite the sluggish economy, gross domestic expenditure on R&D (GERD) as % of GDP increased from the crisis bottom of 1.24 % in 2008 to 1.91% in 2013, getting significantly closer to the EU28 average of 2.02%. (Eurostat, December 2014). Despite clearly catching up, the research and innovation system as a whole still lags behind the EU28 average and in particular behind the top-performing countries in many respects.
The key policy actors are the Council for Research, Development and Innovation (CRDI) at the Office of Government, Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports (MEYS) and the Ministry of Industry and Trade (MIT). The Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic (ASCR) is the single most important research performer. There are 26 public, 2 state and 44 private higher education institutions. The private research sector consists of about 2,300 R&D-performing actors. Czech Science Foundation (GA CR) and Technology Agency of the Czech Republic (TA CR) are the main providers of project funding.
In 2010 and 2011, the economy recovered at a slow pace with GDP growing by 2.5% and 1.8%, respectively, however only to plunge into a double dip recession with GDP declining by 1.0% in 2012 and by 0.9% in 2013. A new centre-left coalition government is in place since early 2014. Pavel Bělobrádek has been appointed the Deputy Prime Minister for the Science, Research and Innovation and formed a new section under the Office of the Government, which is aimed to develop into a new Ministry of Science, Research and Innovation.
The budget of the TA CR grew, while national R&D funding through ministries declined. However, the MEYS and MIT administer the EU Structural Funds dealing with RDI. Metodika 2013 has been implemented on the base of which competitive institutional funding is supposed to be allocated until 2016. A number of large R&D infrastructure projects financed by the EU Structural Funds are under construction and gradually opening. The National RIS Strategy was released at the end of 2014.
The national 2020 target is to reach 1% of public R&D expenditure per GDP, which was nearly achieved in 2013, as soon as public R&D funding from abroad is factored in. Progress in tackling the RDI aspects of the National Reform Programmes 2013 and 2014 is partial, as the relevant agendas are developing, including the new system of evaluation of research organisations and distribution of institutional funding, but their results remain to be seen yet.
The European Commission recommendation is to increase the share of performance-based funding of research institutions. Methodology of evaluation of research organisations based on performance indicators is in place, the so-called Metodika 2013, however, institutional funding is distributed predominantly according to budget negotiations among the key actors. After 2015 a new methodology that is under preparation under the IPn METODIKA project by the Technopolis Group is scheduled to be gradually implemented.
Despite the economic crisis and major slowdown of economic growth, R&D intensity of the economy in terms of gross domestic expenditure on R&D (GERD) as % of GDP increased from the bottom of 1.24% in 2008 to 1.91% in 2013 (Eurostat, 2014). Since 2011 public funding slightly predominates over the private one. Business and foreign R&D funding, including from the EU Structural Funds, grew rapidly over the recent years, while national public funding of R&D tends to stagnate, which casts doubts about the sustainability of recent R&D investments growth (Eurostat, December 2014).
Project vs. institutional allocation of public funding:
Public R&D funding has been traditionally dominated by institutional support. However, this is changing in the context of the Reform of the RDI system. As a result, the share of project funds increased markedly from 44% in 2009 to 51% in 2014. The GBAORD multi-annual budget plan outlines that the share of project funding will oscillate in the narrow range 50-52% over 2015-2017. Nevertheless, in fact the true share of project funding is higher, probably in the range 55-60% over 2014-2017.
Until recently the government stimulated RDI in the business sector predominantly through direct subsidies, of which the dominant providers were the MIT and TA CR with a combined amount of about €150-200m (CZK 4-5b) annually over the period 2010-2014. Yet there has been a shift towards a wider portfolio of support measures, such as the expanding R&D tax credits. Unfortunately, the attempt of MIT to launch a public-private venture capital seed fund failed due to procedural obstacles. Several regions have also implemented innovation voucher programmes.
The National RIS3 Strategy has been approved by the government and submitted to the European Commission in December 2014. The key enabling technologies have been specified as: i) Advanced materials; ii) Nanotechnology; iii) Micro- and nano-electronics; iv) Advanced production technologies; v) Photonics; vi) Industrial biotechnology; vii) Knowledge for digital economy, cultural and creative industries; viii) Social science knowledge base for non-technical innovation. Management and implementation of the RIS3 strategy has been transferred under the auspice of the Deputy Prime Minister for the Science, Research and Innovation.
Metodika 2013 gives the official guidelines for evaluation of public R&D support, however, the methodology is limited to counting of inputs and outputs, does not meet international evaluation standards and does not provide strategic insight to policy and programme development The Update of the National Research, Development and Innovation Policy 2009-2015 with an outlook to 2020 provides a comprehensive evaluation of the progress achieved so far in implementing the RDI reform.
The Czech Republic is a member of the most of the intergovernmental organizations in ERA as well as the member of projects of large European infrastructures (ESFRI). Several large R&D infrastructural projects, including ESFRI, are opening or under construction. The role of the EU structural funds in the funding of R&D has grown enormously in the programming period 2007-2013. The Czech Republic maintains a well-developed portfolio of bilateral agreements either on intergovernmental level or on inter-institutional level.
In 2013, there were about 43 thousands researchers (full-time equivalent), of which nearly half were based in the business sector, a third in the higher education sector and slightly less than a fifth in the government sector. The number of researchers roughly doubled during the ten-year period between 2004 and 2013. However, the approach to RDI human resource management is unsystematic and needs a major revision. Czech institutions or organisations have not yet received the Commission acknowledgement for progress in the context of the HR Strategy so far.
Open, transparent and merit-based recruitment of researchers:
Generic labour laws set employment conditions; however, the system is based on a high level of institutional autonomy. Likewise, career development is a matter for internal institutional regulations. Professors are appointed by the President of the Czech Republic on the recommendation of the higher education institution’s council, submitted through the MEYS. Academic careers are hierarchical and consecutive and the academic titles have lifelong and countrywide validity. The academic labour market is quite internally oriented. There is a very low horizontal mobility of academic staff leading to a clear pattern of inbreeding and limited competition for posts. Opportunities for early career researchers are weak.
Access to and portability of grants:
Public research funders, such as GA CR and TA CR, support almost exclusively resident researchers. Funding for non-residents is generally not possible, unless they become residents for the purpose of conducting the research project. Language barriers for participation of foreign researchers are important. National research funding programmes do not allow transferability of a grant to another country, thus research projects funded by national research programmes must be performed in the Czech Republic.
The EURAXESS Centre operates a network of two service centres in Prague and Brno and regional contact points in eight cities. It is not formally required to advertise new positions nationally and internationally in media, thus in practical terms only a minority of vacancies is announced through EURAXESS and other international portals. However, the awareness of EURAXESS Jobs portal increased significantly since 2011.
Universities are fairly autonomous in the way they develop doctoral training and there are very large differences in this respected. Standardisation of PhD programmes is being tackled within the reform of tertiary education. However, the policy does not refer nor takes into account the Principles for Innovative Doctoral Training; there is no support that specifically promotes the setting up and running of innovative doctoral training programmes.
HR strategy for researchers (HRS4R) incorporating the Charter and Code:
None of the Czech institutions or organisations have received the Commission acknowledgement for progress in the context of the HR Strategy so far, i.e. there is no HRS4R acknowledged organisation with the so-called "HR Excellence in Research" badge. Nevertheless, three institutions, namely the ASCR, Charles University and CEITEC have endorsed the Charter & Code. So far national authorities have not encouraged public funded institutions to adhere to the Charter & Code.
Education and training systems:
Labour market for researchers continues to suffer from a lack of experts, especially in science and technology. Because the reform of tertiary education remains uncompleted, there has been an unchecked expansion of university graduates, the quality of which is however hard to judge. Management of research groups is underdeveloped, there is little use of career development plans and mobility among researchers is poor. Overall, the approach to research human resource management is unsystematic.
e-Infrastructures and researchers electronic identity:
The keystone of the Czech e-infrastructure for research is CESNET (Czech Education and Scientific NETwork), which also implements the EDUROAM infrastructure, operates the Czech academic identity federation eduID.cz project and is responsible for the Czech NREN. CERIT Scientific Cloud offers storage and computing resources and related services, including support for their experimental use. IT4Innovations is a unique project (integrated in the ESFRI Roadmap) of a national Centre of Excellence in the field of information technologies.
Open Access to publications and data:
Open access to both scientific publications and data for research purposes hinges on underdeveloped infrastructure and institutional framework. The awareness of open access movement ideas is concentrated among library staff, but there are efforts to raise the awareness, such as the portals www.openaccess.cz and www.dspace.cz, which promote the open access ideas among researchers. Policies with regards to access to scientific publications are fragmented; the deals are negotiated separately by the individual research organizations. National open access repository does not exist.
In 2008, a comprehensible the Reform of the RDI system was launched, which brought to the attention of policy-makers the role of innovation and private-public research linkages for national competitiveness. Business investment in research and innovation is not only supported by direct subsidies anymore, which used to be the dominant policy measure, but by much broader portfolio of instruments, including R&D tax credits, support programmers for joint public-private research projects or regional innovation voucher programmes. Nevertheless, RDI policies continue to be focused predominantly on the supply side and are deeply rooted in the linear model of innovation.
A major weakness of the public research sector has traditionally been limited knowledge transfer from science to practical applications, poor commercialization of scientific outputs and underdeveloped entrepreneurship culture among scientists. The evaluation system heavily relies on indicators of scientific output and does not motivate scientists to get involved in commercialization activities. Public support specifically to science-based entrepreneurship is lacking. Academic spin-offs are very rare.
Formal methods of intellectual property rights (IPRs) protection remain underutilized, in spite of the continuous effort to improve their use and despite the fact that state of the art IPRs legislation is in place. Too few experts and little experience can be found in this domain, especially in the public sector. The owner of invention is nominally the university or the government research institute but the oversight and enforcement is weak. National strategy of IPRs utilization is lacking.
Many support measures, for example under TA CR, are in place to foster technology transfer and public-private R&D cooperation with the aim to steer research towards practical outcomes. However, the linkages between public and private R&D sectors improve very slowly, as there is a lack of supporting institutions (both formal and informal) and insufficient supply of mediation services. Technology Transfer Offices are increasingly established but remain in infancy in the public sector. Private-public mobility of researchers is weak. Systematic solution of the technology transfer issues at the national level, hence national knowledge transfer policy, is lacking.
TA CR launched a portfolio of new programmes but none of its programmes is specifically devoted to supporting innovation in SMEs. Several programmes of the OP EI under the MIT, helped start-ups and SMEs enterprises to overcome the limited availability of external funding and supported the establishment of technology platforms and clusters. INOSTART programme supports innovative business start-ups in terms of loan guarantees for innovative projects and consultancy services. Regional governments are increasingly implementing innovation voucher programmes. Hence, there is a small number of support programmes tailored particularly to the needs of innovative SMEs in place.
The venture capital market is very limited. The MIT plan to launch a pilot project of a public-private seed fund supported from the OP EI has been derailed by the appeal of an unsuccessful candidate for the Fund’s custodian to the Office for the Protection of Competition. In early 2014 the government decided to cancel the project. Nevertheless, there are plans to re-start this effort in the new programming period 2014-2020.
Public tenders, except of those for R&D, are very rarely recognised as the opportunity to promote innovation. Public procurement in R&D for the needs of public administration bodies is centralised under the BETA programme of the TA CR. A national target on public procurement of innovative goods and services has not been announced. The national procurement policy does not consider the objective of supporting innovation.
The Innovation Union Scoreboard 2014 classified the Czech Republic among the “moderate innovators”, which maintain the overall innovative performance slightly below the EU28 average. Nevertheless, the Czech Republic moved up to the 2nd place in the moderate innovators category just short of Italy but already ahead of Spain, Portugal and Greece. Despite scoring below the EU28 average in most of the individual indicators under consideration, the Czech Republic is catching up with the category “innovation followers” in many important areas. Overall, the Czech RDI system can be characterised by a combination of both moderate level and growth performance.
Many national assessments of the RDI system have been recently carried out in the context of the ongoing reform, notably the International Audit of Czech RDI, National Innovation Strategy, Update of the National Research, Development and Innovation Policy 2009-2015 with an outlook to 2020 and the National RIS Strategy. Drawing on their findings, which are by and large in parlance with results of the Innovation Union Scoreboard, the main structural challenges can be detected in the following five areas: i) Governance, evaluation and research excellence; ii) Stagnating public funding and new large infrastructures; iii) Skills shortages, rigid labour market for researchers and internationalization; iv) Innovation capabilities, disembedded multinationals and venture capital; and Underdeveloped public-private collaboration, technology transfer and market for technology.
The Reform of the RDI system launched in 2008 and the consequent agenda of the National RDI Policy 2009-2015 are aligned with the EUROPE 2020 Strategy and the policy mix aims to tackle the main challenges. However, policy response and implementation have been piecemeal in many respects so far. The main success area is the upgrading of research infrastructures, while the progress has been slow in promoting excellence, opening the labour market, reforming the evaluation framework and getting ideas to market.