National Agency for Research: what is there, what is missing

Tempo di lettura: 11 mins

The Italian National Agency for Research is about to be established. Article 28 of the draft budget law for 2020, which will be discussed at the Chambers in the coming days (see below for the text) and by the Ministry of Education, Universities and Research, talks about it. It coordinates and directs the research of universities, public research institutes and bodies. The objectives are dictated by the programming that remains in political hands. Like other research agencies around the world, the NRA is responsible for funding highly strategic projects "selected according to criteria and procedures that conform to international best practice"; among its tasks also the measurement of the impact of funded projects and the internationalization of research, in particular to maximize the results in European programs. Among its functions, also the task of increasing the efficiency in the disbursement of resources, especially those of the National Fund for Innovation (about 1 billion euros) managed by the Cassa Depositi e Prestiti, as well as "attracting funding from the private sector".

The majority of the appointments are political: the director is chosen by the Prime Minister, while the eight members of the Board of Directors are chosen by the Minister for Education, Universities and Research (2), the Minister for Economic Development (2), the Minister for Health (1), the Minister for Technological Innovation and Digitisation (1), the Rectors' Conference of Italian Universities (1), the National University Council (1), the Council of Presidents of public research bodies (1). The candidates are 'persons of high scientific qualification, with a deep knowledge of the research system in Italy and abroad and with many years of experience in public or private bodies or organisations operating in the research sector and it is a preferential requirement to have experience in the management of complex projects or strategic research infrastructures'.

The statute of the Agency should be approved in the first months of next year, regulating a structure composed of up to 34 people.

Comment

A number of comments can be made in the heat of the moment, which will certainly also be reflected in the debate in Parliament.

1. Unlike other foreign agencies, the Italian NRA will not manage much of the competitive funding from the State, but will manage its own budget, which will amount to EUR 300 million in 2022. It seems to understand, therefore, that the individual ministries will continue to manage their own calls (PRIN, FIRB, Finalized Research, etc..) as before. This would be a missed opportunity to standardize under a single body and in a transparent and independent manner the entire batch of research calls. If all the ministries continue to maintain their projects, in fact, NRAs would become an additional body, without the simplification required. And again it would be in vain to ask for a precise, annual calendar, which is one of the requests of the scientific community: in other words, to know when calls for proposals are coming out to avoid the discontinuities that have characterized, for example, the PRIN calls.

2. The Italian agency seems to be mainly inspired by the French ANR (here the decree establishing the French ANR in 2006), so with a strong political imprint in the appointments, but with the difference that the French ANR also has a scientific committee (comité de pilotage scientifique) composed of scientists, including foreigners, foreign to the political logic. It is a steering and control committee that meets at least three times a year, and that has its weight. A similar body, however, is also present in the governing structure of the Coordination of British Research Councils (https://www.ukri.org/about-us/our-councils/).

3. The recruitment of the Director and the eight members of the Board of Directors does not currently include a search committee which would operate the selection according to the best practices in use in the international scientific community. This is perhaps the most critical point of the draft.

It will therefore be important to follow the debate in Parliament on this point, and intervene with analysis and proposals to ensure that Italy does not waste the opportunity to equip itself with an agency equal to the challenges posed by international research.

Draft budget law for 2020 - Article 28 article and related explanatory report

Art. 28

(Establishment of the National Research Agency and other measures to support research and education)

In order to strengthen the research carried out by universities, public and private research bodies and institutes, expenditure of 25 million euro for the year 2020, 200 million euro for the year 2021 and 300 million euro per year starting from the year 2022 is authorised, to be entered in a special fund in the budget of the Ministry of Education, Universities and Research, of which 0.3 million euro in the year 2020 and 4 million euro per year starting from 2021, for the operation and staff of the agency referred to in paragraph 2.

In order to achieve the objectives referred to in paragraph 1, a special agency, called the National Research Agency (NRA), has been set up, with statutory, organisational, technical-operational and management autonomy, and is subject to supervision by the Presidency of the Council of Ministers and the Ministry of Education, University and Research. The NRA promotes coordination and directs the research activities of universities, public research bodies and institutes towards objectives of excellence, increasing synergy and cooperation between them and with the economic-productive system, public and private, in relation to the strategic objectives of research and innovation as well as economic policy objectives of the Government functional to the productivity and competitiveness of the country. The NRA also promotes the internationalisation of research activities, promoting, supporting and coordinating Italian participation in European and international projects and initiatives.

The Agency referred to in paragraph 2, in particular:

a) in order to define the National Research Programme (PNR) referred to in Legislative Decree No 204 of 5 June 1998, it shall verify the implementation of the general lines of development of national research and shall suggest updates to the Programme;

b) promotes and finances research projects to be carried out in Italy by public and private entities, including foreign ones, highly strategic for sustainable development and social inclusion, highly integrated, innovative and able to aggregate initiatives promoted in contexts of economic and social disadvantage, selected according to criteria and procedures in accordance with international best practices;

c) assesses the impact of the research activity, taking into account the results of ANVUR's activities within the scope of the powers provided for by Presidential Decree no. 76 of 1 February 2010, in particular in order to increase the cost-effectiveness, effectiveness and efficiency of public funding in the sector, including the public resources of the National Fund for Innovation managed by Cassa Depositi e Prestiti and to attract funding from the private sector;

(d) define a plan for the simplification of administrative and accounting procedures for research projects for the adoption of implementing legislative and administrative measures.

The Agency's bodies are the Director, the Steering Committee and the Board of Auditors.

The Director is chosen by the President of the Council of Ministers. The Steering Committee is composed of eight members chosen: two by the Minister of Education, University and Research, one by the Minister for Economic Development, one by the Minister of Health, one by the Minister for Technological Innovation and Digitization, one by the Conference of Rectors of Italian Universities, one by the National University Council, one by the Council of Presidents of public research bodies.

The director and the members of the steering committee are appointed by decree of the President of the Council of Ministers and remain in office for four years. They are chosen from among people of high scientific qualification, with a deep knowledge of the research system in Italy and abroad and with many years of experience in public or private bodies or organisations operating in the research sector and it is a preferential requirement to have experience in the management of complex projects or strategic research infrastructures.

The director is the legal representative of the Agency, directs and is responsible for it and performs the other tasks assigned to him by the statute.

The Board of Auditors is composed of three full members and two alternates, appointed by decree of the Minister of Education, University and Research. One full member, who assumes the functions of President, and one alternate member are appointed by the Minister of Economy and Finance. The Board of Auditors performs the functions of administrative and accounting control referred to in Article 20 of Legislative Decree No. 123 of 30 June 2011. The members of the Board of Auditors shall remain in office for three years and may be renewed only once.

By decree of the President of the Council of Ministers, on the proposal of the Minister of Education, University and Research, in agreement with the Minister of Economy and Finance, to be issued within ninety days from the date of entry into force of this law, the statute of the Agency that regulates its activities and rules of operation is approved. The decree referred to in this paragraph also defines the organic endowment of the Agency, up to a maximum of 34 units in total, including three second tier managers, as well as the remuneration due to members of the administration and control bodies. The provisions of Legislative Decree no. 165 of 30 March 2001 and the collective agreement for the Education and Research sector apply to the agency's staff.

By decree of the President of the Council of Ministers, on the proposal of the Minister for Education, Universities and Research, in agreement with the Minister for the Economy and Finance, to be issued within 60 days from the date of entry into force of this law, the alternative procedures for simplification in alternative administrative and accounting matters and the procedures for implementing this paragraph are defined. In drawing up the plan referred to in paragraph 3(d), the NRA shall take account of the results achieved by the simplification obtained by applying this paragraph.

In order to ensure the continuation of the financing of national space programmes, in international cooperation and within the framework of the European Space Agency, while ensuring the coordination of budgetary policies in this area, the amounts allocated by the Prime Minister's Decree of 11 June 2019, adopted pursuant to Article 1, paragraph 98, of Law 30 December 2018, n. 145, increased by 390 million euros for the year 2020, 452 million euros for the year 2021, 377 million euros for the year 2022, 432 million euros for the year 2023, and 409 million euros for the year 2024.

The sums referred to in paragraph 1 are allocated by decree of the Prime Minister, on the proposal of the political authority delegated to coordinate space and aerospace policies pursuant to Article 21 of Legislative Decree No 128 of 4 June 2003, after consulting the Interministerial Committee for Space Policies and Aerospace Research.

The expenditure authorisation referred to in Article 1(591) of Law No 205 of 27 December 2017 shall be increased by EUR 30 million per year as from 2020, to be allocated to the single national fund for the position and performance remuneration of school leaders.

In order to provide for measures aimed at strengthening the qualification of teachers in the field of school inclusion, for the year 2020 the expenditure authorization referred to in Article 1, paragraph 125, of Law No. 107 of 13 July 2015, is increased by € 11 million.

In order to promote digital innovation in teaching, for the year 2020 the expenditure authorisation referred to in Article 1(62), second sentence, of Law No 107 of 13 July 2015, shall be increased by EUR 2 million.

To promote the right to university study, the fund referred to in Article 18, paragraph 1, letter a) of Legislative Decree no. 68 of 29 March 2012, has increased by € 16 million for the year 2020.

Illustrative report

Art. 28

(Establishment of the National Research Agency and other measures to support research and education)

Paragraph 1 establishes a special fund in the budget of the Ministry of Education, Universities and Research in order to strengthen the research carried out by universities, public and private research institutions and bodies. An appropriation of expenditure for the staff of the institution in question is also authorised (referred to in paragraph 2).

Paragraphs 2 and 3 provide for the establishment of a new agency, called the National Research Agency, under the joint supervision of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers and the Ministry of Education, Universities and Research, with the aim of strengthening research activities in the country, increasing synergy, cooperation and integration between universities and public and private research bodies, in relation to the strategic objectives of research and innovation as well as the Government's economic policy objectives, functional to the country's productivity and competitiveness.

The Agency verifies the implementation of the general lines of development of national research and suggests updates to the National Research Programme (PNR), promotes and finances research projects to be carried out in the Italian State, highly strategic for sustainable development and social inclusion, highly integrated, innovative and able to aggregate initiatives promoted in contexts of economic and social disadvantage and assesses the impact of research activities and defines a plan for simplification of administrative and accounting procedures relating to research projects for the adoption of legislative and administrative measures of implementation.

Paragraphs 4-9 identify the bodies of the Agency, represented by the Director, the Steering Committee and the Board of Auditors, and regulate their appointment criteria and their composition. By decree of the President of the Council of Ministers, on the proposal of the Minister of Education, University and Research, in agreement with the Minister of Economy and Finance, to be issued within ninety days from the date of entry into force of this law, is approved the statute of the Agency that regulates the activities and rules of operation. This decree also regulates the organic endowment of the Agency, up to a maximum of 34 units in total, of which three are second tier executives, as well as the remuneration due to members of the administration and control bodies.

Paragraph 10 provides that, by decree of the President of the Council of Ministers, on the proposal of the Minister of Education, Universities and Research, in agreement with the Minister of Economy and Finance, alternative simplification procedures in administrative and accounting matters and the related implementation procedures are defined.

 

altri articoli

Research agency: our proposals to the government and parliament

Gruppo 2003: It is important that the Research Agency is transparent and independent from politics, starting from the choice of its governing bodies.

The Italian Government has finally proposed a National Agency for Research, which has been advocated for many years by the Gruppo 2003, a charity of Italian highly Cited scientists focused on Italian research policy. For the moment, information on the characteristics of the Agency is contained in Article 28 of the Draft Budget Law for 2020, which will be discussed in the Chambers in the coming days.