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RIO Country Report Poland 2015

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


R&I Challenges

Increase intensity of private R&I

Challenge description: 

Poland has been gradually increasing the business expenditures on R&D as a result of the catching-up process with its Western European counterparts (0.18% of GDP in 2010 to 0.39% in 2014, more than double in nominal terms). Yet, it continues lagging behind most EU countries, also when compared with its neighbours (1.03% of GDP in CZ and 0.98% in HU in 2013). Even though the actual business R&D expenditure might be underestimated due to the lack of appropriate incentives for businesses to report them and/or qualify them as R&D costs, the innovation output indicators show little progress towards a more innovation-driven economy. Poland scores particularly low on the criteria related to SMEs innovating in-house and SMEs introducing innovations (last or second to last among 34 countries included in the ranking), with a declining trend in 2007-2012 for product or process innovation.

The European Council reiterated in its country-specific recommendations in 2014 the importance of introducing new tax incentives for R&D as a way to leverage R&I spending by business sector. The existing tax incentives are either used by a limited number of large companies that either register a R&D centre (42 companies in 2015) or acquire technology (80 beneficiaries in 2014). Even the official government documents confirm that “the existing system, intended to support innovativeness of enterprises, favours the purchases of ready-to-use solutions, thus supporting transfers of foreign solutions”, as spelled out in the background document, prepared in 2012 by the Ministry of Economy for the Strategy for the Innovation and Efficiency of the Economy for the years 2012-2020. 

Policy Response: 

The Enterprise Development Programme for the years 2014-2020 (EDP) adopted in 2014 and implementing the high-level Strategy ‘Dynamic Poland’ contains a comprehensive list of planned measures to support the development of innovation and entrepreneurship including tax incentives for R&D. The national smart specialisation strategy is an integral part of the document.

The science and higher education reforms from 2010-2011 established the operations of two executive funding agencies for basic research and applied research. The National Centre for Research and Development leverages business R&D spending by introducing multiple grant programmes as public-private partnerships (e.g. BRIdge, CuBR). The principle is also used for sectoral programmes financed from the Structural Funds 2014-2020 (e.g. INNOMED or INNOLOT). In 2014, the average private co-funding from business enterprises in all programmes funded by NCBiR amounted to 23%. The NCBiR requests its beneficiaries to adequately report their own financial contributions in order to better account for the BERD.

The Polish Agency for Enterprise Development offers innovation vouchers stimulating collaboration between SMEs and research institutions (in 2002-2012 a total of 30.6m PLN/ €7.3m was distributed among 2,053 entities). The allocations per voucher were subsequently enlarged and are offered also in the current programming period. In parallel, similar instruments are also offered by some of the regions. Overall, the programming of the EU Structural Funds for 2014-2020 in Poland was guided by an explicitly stated shift in focus from financing technology absorption to technology development with several measures focused on launching new services and products (e.g. NCBIR managed Research for the market, Demonstrator+ or Applied projects).

The Act on Amendments of Some Acts with respect to the Support for Innovativeness adopted in September 2015 introduces the definition of R&D efforts to the Polish tax accounting system and allows companies to classify parts of the R&D expenditures as tax deductible costs as from 2016 which is aimed at increasing R&D business expenditures. The initial version of the Act included substantial tax exemptions for R&D performers, but they were removed in the subsequent parliamentary work.

Policy assessment: 

The effects of the science and higher education reforms from 2010-2011, increasing focus on leveraging business R&D in the current programming period (in line with the national smart specialisation strategy) and recent changes in the tax accounting system are likely to generate further increases of BERD in the coming years. Increasing shares of researchers employed by business enterprises (from 16% in 2010 to 29% in 2013) are already signs of increasing research capacity of business. The implementation of R&D tax breaks foreseen in the EDP has the potential to further increase R&D expenditures, but the implementation was put aside in 2015.

Strengthen synergies between science and industry

Challenge description: 

The weak linkages between business sector and academia continue to be a challenge for the young Polish R&I system and were subject of Country Specific Recommendations in 2011 and 2013. The bulk of the business expenditure  in the last years was on technology absorption (that was supported both by the system of tax incentives, which included the tax relief for technology acquisition, and by the EU Structural Funds in 2007-2013). On the supply side, academia still lacks sufficient skills in R&D commercialisation and until recently was not incentivised to look for new sources of financing, since the share of institutional funding was very high and commercialization is still not part of the formal career evaluation of individual researchers.

The knowledge transfer outcomes remain unsatisfactory. The number of research projects carried out by PHEIs and PROs, contracted by the industry remains persistently low (with business funding of research performed by academia amounting to 0.02% of the GDP, one of the lowest in the EU-28). Only 10.5% of innovative companies cooperate with universities and higher education institutions compared to almost 15% in CZ and 18% in HU. Counts of joint patent applications are insignificant and in 2013 Poland had only 9.8 public-private co-publications per million of population compared to 29 for the EU-28 (and 17.5 for CZ, 12.8 for HU, RIO; elaboration based on Scopus data)

Policy Response: 

The Enterprise Development Programme for the years 2014-2020 foresees the simplification of IP rules for public research institutes, strengthening science-business links through regional instrument financing private sector secondments of academics.

The science and higher education reform from 2010-2011 was intended to induce synergies between the science and industry sectors in order to stimulate the overall innovativeness of the economy. The amendments of the Act on Higher Education from 2011 introduced rules on academic incubators, TTOs and special purpose vehicles to enable commercialisation of research at universities. The Act on Research Institutes (2010) laid out rules for pursuing research collaboration with the industry. The amendments to the Higher Education Act from 2014 foresee new rules for commercialisation of research in universities with a mix of university ownership and the inventor ownership model.

Still, the R&I support measures in 2007-2013 focused on 'brick and mortars' solutions (TTOs, incubators) rather than on fostering links between the actors.

One of the main objectives of the National Centre for Research and Development, as laid out in its foundation act from 2010, is the support for commercialization and other forms of transfer of scientific research results. The agency launched multiple knowledge transfer measures and introduces additional instruments for the 2014-2020 perspective, including “BRIdge Alfa” (seed capital for academic start-ups) and “BRIdge VC” (VC-type of funding for innovative, research-intensive companies), combining the EU funding with the capital provided by private investment funds. Other organisations in charge of this policy domain are the Polish Agency for Enterprise Development (PARP) distributing innovation vouchers and funding for innovations not related to R&D and the Ministry of Science and Higher Education running TOP 500 Innovators programme supporting the development of human resources as well as the Innovation Brokers programme. The Industrial Development Agency established an IP trading platform to facilitate the match-making activities in the field of knowledge transfer. Additionally, the fundamental science funding agency (NCN) and the National Centre for Research and Development run jointly the programme TANGO, which is similar to the ERC Proof of Concept grants. The Foundation for Polish Science funds internships for Polish scientists in Polish and foreign companies through the SKILLS programme.

The Act on Amendments of Some Acts with respect to the Support for Innovativeness facilitates the transfer of intangible assets to newly created companies and lifts related taxes in 2016-2017.

Policy assessment: 

The strength of Poland lies in a well-aligned KT policy underpinned by long-term strategies and clear goals for the next seven years. Still, the output indicators (especially those with a long time lag as co-patenting or co-publications) are not satisfactory. The major weakness of the KT system is the demand side of the KT value chain linked to low innovativeness of the Polish business sector and especially the SMEs (see challenge 1) The intersectoral mobility of highly skilled employees in science and technology is an important mechanism to foster knowledge circulation and transfer and those measures, announced in the EDP and implemented in the Operational Programme 2014-2020 started only in 2015. Recent changes to the rules of IPR management concerning academic inventions were intended to stimulate the growth of knowledge markets by empowering the scientists to assume the ownership of their inventions, but PHEIs and PROs tend to exercise their rights to exploit the IPRs by themselves, so the impact of the new regulations on the science-industry collaborations remains ambiguous.

Increase quality of the public research base

Challenge description: 

Poland ranks low among research performers in the European Union, as evidenced by the score in the Research Excellence Output Indicator of the EU Innovation Union Scoreboard. The share of the top 10% highly cited publications as full counting for the period of 2000-2013 was 5.39% (compared to 7.34% for the Czech Republic, 17.01% for the top-performing Denmark and 11.29% for EU-28). The Polish research output is also less internationally oriented with about one third of publications co-published internationally (the lowest value among all EU-28 Member States) as the evaluation system with its parametric system incentivises quantity rather than quality (Scopus data 2013, RIO own calculations).

Another indicator of low performance of Poland is the fact that it benefited in total from only 1.1% of all FP7 allocated to beneficiaries from EU-28 and has even lower results in the first calls of Horizon 2020 – 1% (based on eCorda database). However, the wide availability of alternative sources of funding for R&D, including state-funded programmes and the EU Structural Funds in the 2007‑2013 period, was an important inhibitor for participation in more competitive European research programmes. 

Policy Response: 

Poland introduced performance-based funding models in 2008. PROs and universities are encouraged to compete for the status of the leading national research centre (KNOW), which gives access to additional funding. In 2013, after the first national assessment based on new rules promoting the research effectiveness, the evaluation criteria were substantially modified to further promote organizations conducting world-class research, and the evaluation process is managed by a central IT system POL-on. The assessment in 2017 will be carried out according to an updated methodology prepared after consultations with stakeholders. Only a draft of this methodology is currently available. More points will be granted for the participation in international research projects with a special emphasis on Horizon 2020, or for receiving the HR Excellence in Research logos.

Dedicated funding instruments support also the internationalization of the Polish R&I system, including grants targeting international co-operation and in years 2014-2020, the support is being strengthened thanks to new, dedicated measures. The EU Structural Funds are used to support the launch and delivery of innovative doctoral studies, with preference for interdisciplinary programmes, involving international researchers and science-industry collaboration. MNiSW signed a voluntary agreement of with interested PHEIs and PROs (“Pact for Horizon 2020”), ensuring additional support for research teams that apply for funding and implement Horizon 2020 projects. The Ministry launched also the Information System on Science (POL-on) –aggregating data about researchers, research infrastructures, publications and R&D projects of PHEIs and PROs in order to better monitor the performance of the system.

The Ministry recently prepared the Programme for Internationalisation of Polish Higher Education.  The document presented in June 2015 does not introduce any new financial commitments aggregating the existing support measures nor does it include an Action Plan to implement it.

Policy assessment: 

Recent efforts to increase the funding for international co-operation and raise the Horizon 2020 success rates as well as the increase in the share of the public funding for best performers should be closely monitored. Given the low share of international tertiary students and researchers, more efforts are needed to attract excellent researchers from abroad to further open and internationalise the Polish research system. 

Attracting R&D focused FDI and creating knowledge spill-overs from FDIs

Challenge description: 

The FDI policies of the Central and Eastern European countries were focused on FDI inflows with the main aim of generating employment in less economically developed regions. Yet, this focus on cost competitiveness attracted mostly low to mid-low technology and required a relatively low-skilled labour force. As a result, even though Poland experiences a constant influx of foreign direct investments, being one of the most attractive FDI locations in the EU, its main strength still lays in relatively cheap labour. Yet, the character of the largest FDIs in Poland gradually evolves towards knowledge-based activities (the amount of R&D expenditures by FDIs more than doubled from 2009 to 2013, growing from €300.79m to €694.17m according to the national statistical office). 

Policy Response: 

In 2014, the government amended the rules for the “Programme for the support of investments of considerable importance for Polish economy for years 2011-2020”, which supports FDIs and will be oriented towards R&D-type investments, with specific funding allocated by the Ministry of Economy. The amendments include incentives for R&D investments, and investors from priority sectors (automotive, electronics, aviation, biotechnology, business services sector). The government agency dealing with foreign investments, PAIZ, treats R&D investments as a priority, with focused efforts of PAIZ specialists interacting with potential investors. The National Centre for Research and Development cooperates with foreign VCs, co-funding the establishment of a dedicated fund to support the commercialization of R&D-based companies.

Policy assessment: 

This change in policy focus is already visible in the registered increase in R&D funding by foreign investors in 2012 and 2013. The introduction of R&D tax credits similar to neighbouring countries (e.g. CZ) would probably offer additional incentives for R&D-intensive FDIs. So far little attention has been paid to the creation of linkages between the foreign enterprises and local companies and/or scientific organisations. 

Priority setting in the R&I governance system

Challenge description: 

In the past, both investors and R&D performers were facing problems in identifying clear priorities in the government's R&I support policies. The European Commission in its 2012 Country Specific Recommendations pointed out to the need for higher concentration of investments in priority areas. In 2014, the government defined a list of 19 national smart specialisations (KIS) based on foresight exercises and in a similar manner, each of 16 Polish regions established RIS3, defining eligibility of funding for R&I and research infrastructures from the Operational Programmes. The EC has already pointed to limited synergies between the national and regional levels, which become important as more of the EU Structural Funds will be directly distributed on the regional level in 2014-2020.

Policy Response: 

The Strategy for Innovation and Efficiency of the Economy – Dynamic Poland 2020 (2013-20) and the Entrepreneurship Development Programme (EDP) including National Smart Specialisations set the strategic directions for R&I policy and implementation.

In the current programming period, the national R&D-related measures managed previously by many governmental agencies are mainly co-ordinated by the National Centre for Research and Development to avoid competence overlaps among government agencies, and the agency signed agreements with several regional governments to support the management of the regional R&D programmes. The entrepreneurial discovery process is supported by the World Bank in order to improve the engagement of stakeholders such as business enterprises in the formulation of innovation policies and the identification of emerging specialisations.

Policy assessment: 

Top-level policy documents define targets and implementation plans in R&I area. With the increasing importance of the regions in channelling R&I funds, the voluntary agreements of regional governments and NCBiR are an important sign of good coordination between governance levels. Yet, the European Commission calls for more evidence that the newly proposed RIS3 framework goes beyond the “business as usual” from the previous EU financial perspective (2007-2013), which was focused on technology absorption and a generic distribution of funds rather than innovation of domestic companies and technology transfer in selected areas, identified as smart specialisations. 'Gold plating' especially at the regional level should also be closely monitored, as in previous programming period the regional distribution of funding was seen as problematic by beneficiaries.

*Gold plating  refers to obligations that go beyond the standard EU requirements: an excess of norms, guidelines and procedures accumulated at national and regional levels, interfering with the expected policy goals


1. Overview of the R&I system

The Polish research and innovation (R&I) system has been significantly restructured since its 2010-2011 reform, but those changes still have not triggered significant changes in output indicators. Poland once again scored poorly in the EU’s 2014 Innovation Union Scoreboard ranking as moderate innovator and lags in the Research Excellence indicator. 

GERD as percentage of GDP in 2014 was 0.94%, which remained well below the target of 1.70%, set for 2020, but it is steadily increasing every year. The R&D funded by the business sector amounted in 2014 to 0.44% of GDP (EU-28: 1.3% in 2014) and the business expenditures on R&D have gradually increased in recent years (2010-2014). Public expenditures on R&D remain the main source of funding (47.4% of GERD in 2014). The European Structural Funds are an important source of funding for R&D as well as Innovation activities, altogether the R&D funding from abroad accounted for 13.4% of GERD in 2014. GERD and BERD show a steady increase , and meeting the long-term targets is likely, especially with the substantial R&I allocations based on the 2014-2020 EU Structural Funds (13.2% of the total amount, i.e. €10.14b over seven years). Share of public R&D funding distributed as grants (project funding) was 65.14% in 2014.

The country is decomposed into 16 regions, with differentiated innovation performance.

2. Recent developments in research and innovation policy and systems

Key developments in the R&I system in 2015 included:

  • Adoption of the Operational Programme Smart Growth (POIR) and 16 regional operational programmes, which will offer substantial financing for R&I initiatives, based on the EU Structural Funds in the 2014-2020 perspective;
  • Adoption of National Smart Specialisations (KIS) and regional smart specialisations, listing strategic areas for R&I support;
  • Launch of a new portfolio of support measures, based on POIR and offered by multiple government agencies – the redesigned R&I support system includes instruments covering the entire innovation cycle, and encompasses both grants and financial instruments, with the involvement of experienced investment funds and public-private partnerships;
  • Amendments of the Act on Principles of Financing Science to facilitate large investments in research infrastructures in line with the national roadmap;
  • Adoption of the Act on Amendments of Some Acts with respect to the Support for Innovativeness, adjusting tax accounting regulations for R&D, and including changes to various other legislations, intended to streamline Poland’s innovation system and eliminate the identified bottlenecks.

3. Public and private funding of R&I and expenditure

Poland was subject to the Excessive Deficit Procedure from July 2009 till June 2015. The R&D budget appropriations (GBAORD) increased even in the years of the crisis and were not subject to consolidation within the excessive deficit procedure. Yet, part of the increase was gained through using the EU Structural Funds and their role increases year by year, which in the longer term (after 2020) may pose a problem with sustaining the public spending on R&D at the same level.

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

Poland is aligned with many ERA policies, but the R&I system suffers from insufficient internationalisation. There are restrictions on access to and portability of grants and international scientific co-operation is limited compared to other EU member states. Despite only limited incentives to publish in open access, the statistics show relative popularity of this mode of publishing in Poland. 

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

The Polish R&I policies show in the current years a strong focus on the promotion of knowledge transfer and science-based entrepreneurship, with additional measures taken to promote the development of the venture capital market, but tangible results of these efforts are still to be seen.

6. Conclusions

The five 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
Official publication date
Tuesday, 3 May, 2016
Country Report file
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