Public Service Review: European Science and Technology - Issue 5
The city of knowledge
04 January 2010
Director Xavier Dehan sheds light on how Research in Brussels is promoting scientific research and technological innovation to the next generation
Brussels is both a city and a region characterised by a high level of intensive service activities in the field of knowledge.
Besides universities and schools of higher education known all over the world, and high quality hospitals and sectorial centres that accompany enterprises, there is a high concentration of SMEs active among others in TIC and life science sectors, and all of these create an important network with tremendous vitality.
Brussels has an ideal basis for capitalising on a knowledge economy. But what about its innovation potential? What about research activities and technological transfers towards enterprises?
Over a period of three years, the budget allocated to research doubled, showing Brussels Capital-Region's will to reach the 3% GDP fixed by the Lisbon strategy and consequently to improve economic efficiency.
A huge breeding ground
The Brussels government has set up the 'Regional Plan for Innovation', which concentrates the region's resources on research projects led in three priority sectors: TIC, life science and environment.
For these three activity sectors, Brussels has created impulse programmes that aim to reinforce technological innovation at middle term, by stimulating cooperation between research units with an eye to the creation of spin-offs.
Moreover, five incubators have also been created in Brussels especially for the TIC and life science. These incubators offer researchers-entrepreneurs infrastructure as well as management coaching.
With another approach to promoting innovation, Brussels offers a wide range of subsidies to support the researcher-entrepreneur from the beginning to the end of the innovation process, and among others is the programme 'Spin-offs in Brussels'.
In addition, a range of fiscal measures have been initiated in Belgium in order to attract researchers, including – a first in Europe – an innovation bonus. The latter makes it possible for employers to stimulate an innovation culture within their companies by granting a bonus exempted from taxes and financial contribution to the Belgian social security system.
With the wide range of subsidies offered to companies active in R&D, there is also Brains (Back) To Brussels, a programme that aims at have PhD researchers working in another country come or return to Brussels. The programme offers them the opportunity to stabilise their careers and settle in the capital, either for good or for a shorter stay.
Whereas the advantages of such initiatives are obvious at scientific level, they also affect academies' influence, as 'Brains (Back) To Brussels' makes it possible to improve the quality of research led in Brussels universities, increase their reputation and help them get European financing aids more easily.
As can be noted from the aforementioned, Brussels has a real will to create growth and employment.
The future of research is in the hands of the younger generation. However, it is a matter of fact that youngsters lack interest for scientific studies. In order to counteract the decrease in the number of students in scientific subjects at universities, Brussels is striving towards a continuity of science awakening actions all along primary and secondary levels, via Research in Brussels (RIB), which coordinates science awareness initiatives by the numerous private entities experienced in that matter.
Barriers are manifold: fear that scientific studies will not make it possible to find a related job, concern about remuneration, vagueness regarding what career prospects and possibilities are concerned, and worries about the difficulty of combining professional and family life.
The whole technological innovation channel – from research to commercialisation – demands a wide range of qualified manpower.
Consequently RIB's challenge is to give sciences a human face, explain their importance to the larger public, as well as reassuring younger generations about the future that is being offered to them in science.
As an international city and the capital of Europe, Brussels offers a lot of interesting assets to attract investors and European or international researchers in the hi-tech sector: diversified scientific fabric, proximity of actors, open economy, strategic position. Indeed, currently, more and more foreign entrepreneurs are launching technological enterprises in Brussels.
Moreover, numerous research teams, academic as well as private, are taking part in international networks, and a lot of European agencies active in R&D and innovation are located in the capital of the European Union.
On 1st July 2010, the Presidency of the European Union returns to Belgium and the R&D part will be handled by the Brussels-Capital Region. RIB will be the operator of all related events.
Brussels is determined to strive towards putting everything into action in order to have prominent decisions taken in the frame of community programmes related to technological and scientific R&D. These big topics related to R&D and innovation should be on the agenda by July 2010: the simplification of participation regulations to the 7th Framework Programme; the R&D and innovation part of Lisbon Strategy post 2010; as well as the European Plan for Innovation.
Besides these topics, what Brussels hopes to have to its credit for the European research community is outstanding progress contributing towards the creation of a real European Research Area (ERA) as well as to the fifth liberty – that of free movement of knowledge. The inclusion of the ERA into the Treaty of Lisbon in the frame of the co-decision procedure goes towards that positive effect.
RIB is a public NPO created by the government of the Brussels-Capital Region in order to promote initiatives aiming at developing R&D, to make surveys on the current state of research, to raise awareness among young people, to create a community of researchers, as well as to represent the Brussels Region within the European Union, as far as scientific research is concerned.