Stabilising the R&I governance
The system of governance of research, development and innovation (RDI) in Hungary has been subjected to constant structural changes since the beginning of the 1990s, which have led to lack of political commitment, instability of the RDI system, shortfalls in the policy implementation, and slow, insufficiently informed policy learning processes. The latest significant governance restructuring entered into force on 1 January 2015 when the new National Research, Development and Innovation Office (NKFIH) was established. It is the legal successor of the National Innovation Office (NIH) and now incorporates also the National Research, Development and Innovation Fund (NKFIA). This fund integrates the previous Hungarian Scientific Research Fund (OTKA) and the Research and Technological Innovation Fund (KTIA). The NKFIH coordinates the RDI strategy-making, including the Operational Programmes supported by the Structural funds and elaborates the RDI funding instruments of the Hungarian government in collaboration with the respective ministries and the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (MTA).
In the past few years, a number of Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) policy advisory bodies have been established, among which the most recent one is the National Science Policy and Innovation Board (NTIT), whose task is to provide advice to the management of the NKFIH and to formulate strategic recommendations regarding the development of the research and innovation system. However, the activity of those advisory bodies is very small.
A study carried out within the Stairway to Excellence project shows that there are substantial flaws in the management and control of the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF), as well as in the Framework Programmes (FP). During the 2007-2013 programming period the unpredictability of publication and closure of calls hindered the implementation of the RDI ESF funds. In April 2015, the European Commission suspended the Economic Development Operational Programme affecting the payment of around €500m. The audits revealed severe deficiencies related to the evaluation of calls for proposals and the Commission asked the authorities to strengthen the project selection system, and to create synergies between the objectives of the operational programme and the conditions of the specific calls for proposals. These measures were necessary to ensure transparency, equal treatment and efficient financial management, as well as to improve the fraud detection mechanisms.
The rationale behind the establishment of the new NKFIH is to ensure coordination of research and innovation policies at government level, and to provide stable institutional background of predictable financing as well as efficient and transparent RDI funding. In addition, the NKFIH office and the NKFIA fund support financially the entire innovation chain from basic research to applied and experimental development. The new office also runs the database of RDI projects that are financed by public resources.
Concerning the unpredictability of the governance system, the government offered a solution by publishing a yearly funding plan indicating the timing and eligibility criteria of calls for proposals.
Hungary was one of the first Member States (the other one is Bulgaria) that volunteered to undergo a peer-review of its research and innovation system within the framework of the Horizon 2020 Policy Support Facility. So far a pre-Peer Review was carried out by a panel of three independent experts agreed upon by the European Commission and the Hungarian authorities. The pre-Peer Review panel identified four focus areas to be examined in-depth during the subsequent Peer Review process: 1) R&I governance and policy making; 2) availability of human resources for R&I; 3) university-industry cooperation, technology transfer and entrepreneurship; 4) framework conditions for innovation in the business sector.
The governance of the research and innovation system in Hungary is characterised by constant structural and personnel changes that have often delayed the implementation of policies and have slowed down the system performance. The management and control flaws in the operational and framework programmes have caused delays throughout the whole funding cycle, more specifically in the decision making regarding the funding, payments, signature of contracts, approval of modifications, and communication.