Research and development expenditure in Italy amounts to approximately 17.53 billion euro.
The proportion of GDP devoted to R&D is 1.18%, which is lower than the European average standing at around 1.8% and higher only compared to countries such as Hungary, Poland and Greece. Trying to compensate for the scarce resources that governments have devoted and continue to devote to research, Italian researchers seek to obtain funds through the several funding options provided by the European Community.
The Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) has been the most important European tool in support of scientific and technological research. Covering the period from 2007 to 2013, it is now close to its conclusion and some considerations may be drawn with regard to our country's participation in this project.
The programme was structured around four major objectives corresponding to the four main specific programmes: "Cooperation" "Ideas", "People" and "Capacities", with a total budget of 48.77 billion euro.
The results obtained by Italy in the FP7 were analyzed by the Ministry of Education. The report shows that, overall, our system is essentially solid, compared to previous experiences and despite increased competition from the 27 countries of the enlarged Europe. In FP6, Italian research projects received approximately 1,386 million euro or 8.8% of the total budget, while in the FP7 Italy received funding of approximately 2,221 million euro accounting for 8.43% of the total. Only Germany, France and the United Kingdom have obtained a larger share. It must be stressed, however, that Italy contributed with an outlay amounting to 13.4% of the EU budget: thus, we reaped less than we sowed. Approximately 87,000 proposals were submitted to the Commission, of which 14,478 were eligible for funding, with an average success rate of 16.6%.
Fig.1 - Contributed and obtained funds as a percentage of the European budget
In terms of number of participants in the submitted proposals, Italy was preceded by Germany only.
With regard to projects admitted to negotiation, the number of Italian participants ranked only 4th after Germany, the United Kingdom and France. Therefore, the success rate of Italian participants (13.4%) was generally lower not only compared to the traditional reference countries, but also to the EU average (17.9%). With 5,434 coordinators for the submitted proposals, Italy ranked in first place as the country with the largest number of coordinators. This figure was influenced by the strong Italian participation in the ERC request for proposals. The list of projects eligible for negotiation and therefore potentially eligible for funding, however, included a significantly lower number of Italian coordinators.
The success rate for Italy in terms of coordination, calculated at 12.3%, is again far from the European average which stood at 16%. The normalized success rate (in terms of participation and coordination) in the FP7 in relation to the likelihood of success of the submitted proposals indicates that coordinators or researchers from countries such as Belgium, the Netherlands, France and the United Kingdom are twice as likely to obtain funding for their projects compared to their Italian colleagues.
Health: the overall budget of the Health Programme over the duration of the 7th Framework Programme was 6.1 billion Euro including the financing of IMI JTI for 1 billion Euro. 4375 proposals were submitted and about 15.6% of them obtained funding. The percentage of funding obtained by Italy out of the overall budget stood at 7.34%, which was lower compared to FP6, where Italy got back financing equal to 9% of the overall programme budget. Italian participation was characterized by a strong presence of Universities and Research Centers (usually foundations).
Environment Programme: the mentioned trend of a strong number of Italian coordinators in the proposals was confirmed also for this type of programme; unfortunately, however, the success rate in the negotiation phase was only 10.2%, below the European average. However, compared to the funding obtained in the FP6, the percentage of funding for Italy grew, standing at 7.89%
Biotechnology, food and agriculture: the percentage of financing obtained by Italy out of the overall budget stood at 7.59% and about 78 million euro were negotiated.
Information and Communication Technologies: Universities accounted for 51% of Italian winning coordinators with a success rate of 15.6%, higher than the average.
Fig.1 -Picture of Italian estimated financial participation in the FP7
Data on the People programme need to be emphasized; this programme's objective was to strengthen the human potential in European research and technology, both quantitatively and qualitatively, by promoting access to professional research and encouraging European researchers to remain in Europe. Our researchers, in most cases from universities (53.4%), were awarded several grants and conducted successful research activities in EU countries. This is certainly a strong point of Italian universities that prepare excellent young people but which, unfortunately, are unable to attract minds from abroad. Indeed, very few European researchers applied in order to be hosted in our country.
Definitely negative was Italy's participation in the FP7 IDEAS programme. Managed by the European Research Council (ERC), funding in this field was intended to support studies in "frontier research". Italian research institutes only obtained 215 million euro, a figure that is quite far from the major European countries. In order to strengthen Italy's participation in IDEAS, which will have an even stronger weight in Horizon 2020, we should support actions capable of making curiosity-driven research in Italy more attractive.
Break-down of European funds on a regional scale.
The allocation of funding from the 7FQ was not homogeneous throughout Italian regions.
Lazio was the region with the highest European funding, standing at 23.64% of the total national funding, overcoming Lombardy at 21.64%. Financing for the regions of Southern Italy, like Puglia and Campania, stood at around 6%. It is of note that researchers from Liguria with 12.5 k Euro/research unit were the most efficient on a national scale.
By analyzing the various sectors involved in the European research programme, we observe that in biotechnology Lombardy got more than a third of the national funding. Foundations in this region are an interesting winning model that also involves universities and the regional network of small and medium enterprises. With about 20% of EU funds, Lazio benefited from the presence in the region of the Istituto Superiore di Sanità (technical and scientific public body of the Italian National Health Service) and the National Research Council (CNR).
Fig.2 - FP7 funds on a regional scale
In the field of Nanotechnology-based materials, research excellence is particularly concentrated in Piedmont and Lombardy: these two regions together obtained about 50% of European funds. The entities conducting research in this area are mainly from industry or industry related research centres. With regard to the energy, environmental and space sector, Italian excellence is mainly located in Lazio, where large public research institutions operate in the environmental and energy sector with a strong industrial component in the space sector.