In 2016 Georgia became a fully associated member of Horizon 2020, the EU’s research and innovation funding programme for 2014-2020 (European Commission, n.d.). Currently, Horizon 2020 is replaced by a new program entitled Horizon Europe that will be active for 2021-2027. Despite certain changes in the programming, the main rules and procedures remain the same as in the case of Horizon 2020 (as well as its predecessors FP7, FP6, etc.); therefore, throughout this blog, I will use the term ‘Horizon 2020/Europe’ as some of the Horizon 2020 funded projects are still in progress.
This association is not the same and by no means is covered by the EU-Georgia Association Agreement that was signed two years earlier, in 2014. Any country not being associated with (or candidate for, or member of) the EU, can be associated with its research funding program. It means that any legal entity from the associated member participates in the programme’s funding contests under the ‘equivalent conditions’ as the ones from the EU Member countries in exchange for a certain membership fee (EU Grants, 2022). Unfortunately, I have no information about the exact amount Georgia pays, but as a rule, the fee is determined by the volume of the state budget. Meaning that Germany and Georgia will pay completely different fees, but execute the same rights in the programme.
Basically, being associated with the programme means that a legal entity from the associated member can receive funding the same way as the organizations from the EU member states, lead (coordinate) the projects or any of its work packages, etc. i.e. execute the same rights without any difference, at least on a legal level. While in the case of non-associated members, normally, their institutions can participate in a capacity of an “associated partner” without budget or with a budget if specifically defined by the call. There also is a list of certain low- and middle-income countries that are automatically eligible for funding, but this is not part of our discussion. The only thing matters here is that Georgia is an associated country of Horizon 2020/Europe and is eligible for equal funding.
Georgia has been participating in Horizon predecessor programs such as FP6 and FP7, but this participation was fragmental since we have been associated with the programme by that time. Obviously, after signing the association agreement, the funding increased. Overall, Georgia has received a total of 16.63 million EU of NET EU contribution through 155 funded projects over years. The success rate of Georgian scholars equals to 15.91%, meaning that a total of 924 projects have been submitted (Georgia Country Profile, n.d). This indicator increases gradually over years, which is good, but is this enough?
So, what does Georgia as a state do in order to increase the performance and international success of its scholars in addition to paying the Horizon 2020/Europe association fee? Currently, Georgian state funding for research constitutes only 0.11% of GDP (Strategy of Education and Science 2022-2030). This data has not increased (if not decreased) over years (Chitashvili, 2020). We have been constantly promised an increase, but the funding for Rustaveli National Science Foundation, which is responsible for administering the state research funding schemes, has varied between 30-35 million GEL per year including the administrative costs of the foundation (Rustaveli Foundation Budget, 2017-2021). If we look at the recently approved Joint Strategy of Education and Science of Georgia 2022-2030, we will see that the monetary support for science is intended to be increased to 47 million GEL for 2024 (Strategy Action Plan, 2022). We see an obvious increase as the action plan also includes other budget lines for supporting the development of Georgian science (up to 83 million GEL in total for 2022-2024). However, the problem lies in another thing: we are not guaranteed that this strategy and the action plan will be implemented the way we are promised. The experience shows that the previous strategy and action plans were only superficially implemented, and higher education and science never gets prioritized by any governments in Georgia. And promises remain to be promises. For instance, we never saw the increase of the funding up to 6% of the GDP that was promised back in 2019 by then Prime Minister Bakhatdze (Liberali, 2019); we have not seen the promised changes in the funding models of higher education; etc. Therefore, only time will show how much science and higher education in general will be supported by the government in the future. For now, we only have relatively steady, although extremely small, state funding from Rustaveli foundation and the opportunities that Horizon 2020/Europe provides. But the latter has its difficulties.
As I mentioned above, the participation of Georgian legal entities has increased over years, but still remains to be low. This is caused by many factors, but I would say the first reason is associated with a complex application process that requires an enormous amount of time, commitment and several months of work by the participants. The Horizon 2020/Europe projects are collaborative, consortium-based projects with the minimum number of consortium members being 3. While the optimal number is somewhere between 6 and 8 partners. Those who have worked on collaborative projects know how much easier and time-consuming is to draft a project on your own than in conjunction with others. Georgia does not provide any state support schemes for participating into this programme as it is the case of the EU member states, that pay certain amounts to the authors of highly ranked projects that were not funded by Horizon. Therefore, drafting a project here is completely voluntary work. Plus, the competition is worldwide different from Erasmus+ programs that have country or regional quotas, or local contests in which Georgian scholars compete only with one another. This high level of competition and lack of support schemes often hinders Georgian scholars to even start working on the Horizon proposals.
We should herewith mention one positive development in this respect. Last year Georgia opened a National Office for Horizon Europe. The aim of the office is to support the local scholars in application processes, distributed information on available calls, and deliver up-to-date information in respect to legal aspects, Horizon rules and procedure (that are quite comprehensive and difficult), in short, support our participation in the programme. The office will have sort of branches in different universities that will facilitate the process for the representatives of these universities. Definitely, this is a good development. Especially, considering how effective and successful Erasmus+ National Office was over years in a similar endeavor. Anyway, it is too early to judge the work of the National Office and time will show how effectively it will support the involvement of Georgians in Horizon projects.
One more problem that to my mind hinders the involvement of university professors, especially the state ones, in the Horizon 2020/Europe projects is related to the university bureaucracy and inflexibility. Administration of Horizon 2020/Europe projects is not an easy task, and when this difficulty meets university bureaucracy, the motivation of a scholar to apply dies instantly. I am saying that based on the experience of my colleagues, as well as mine personally. Most probably, this is the reason behind the fact that out of all funded projects, only up to 30% were submitted by the local universities, while the rest were through research centers and institutes or private entities (Georgia Country Profile, n.d).
To summarize, Horizon 2020/Europe is a wonderful opportunity for our scholars to perform better, for our universities and research centers to go up in the world ratings and increase their budgets. But, the state is obliged to allocate way higher funding to its academic society through merit-based contests, as well as provide supportive funding schemes for those who wish to participate in international contests. Otherwise, the Georgia scholarship will make progress as slow as a turtle that definitely cannot contribute to the creation of a knowledge-based economy that is envisaged by the newly adopted Joint Strategy of Education and Science 2022-2030.
Author: Diana Lezhava, Center for Social Sciences
The blog is produced within the Economic Policy Research Center’s (EPRC) project ACTION -Activating Civil Society Organizations through Training and Inclusive Operational Network. The project is implemented with the support of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.
The views expressed are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of EPRC and Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.
Chitashvili, M. (2020). Higher Education and State Building in Georgia. In S. F. Jones & N. MacFarlane (Eds.). Georgia: From Autocracy to Democracy. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. 89-116.
European Commission. (n.d) Georgia: Policy Background. Retrieved from https://research-and-innovation.ec.europa.eu/strategy/strategy-2020-2024/europe-world/international-cooperation/georgia_en#:~:text=Georgia%20has%20been%20associated%20to,Europe%20on%207%20December%202021.
EU Grants: List of participating countries (HE): V2.3 – 15.09.2022. Retrieved from https://ec.europa.eu/info/funding-tenders/opportunities/docs/2021-2027/common/guidance/list-3rd-country-participation_horizon-euratom_en.pdf
European Commission, (n.d.). R&I Country Profile, Georgia. Retrieved from: https://webgate.ec.europa.eu/dashboard/sense/app/a976d168-2023-41d8-acec-e77640154726/sheet/0c8af38b-b73c-4da2-ba41-73ea34ab7ac4/state/analysis
Shota Rustaveli National Science Foundation. (2018-2021). Budget. Retrieved from: https://rustaveli.org.ge/geo/fondis-biudjeti
Liberali. (2019). Education will be funded by 6% of GDP and this will be ensured by legislation – Prime Minister. Retrieved from: http://liberali.ge/news/view/43632/ganatleba-mshps-6it-dafinansdeba-rats-kanonmdeblobit-iqneba-uzrunvelyofili–premieri