Expert Voices Expert Voices – Karsten Schwarz
We have spoken to over 30 experts on the topic of applying for European funding as HEI-SME consortia and created a blog series of expert voices out of it. One of the experts we have interviewed during the research phase of the project to assess the status-quo, is Karsten Schwarz. You can find all the blogs in this series here.
Dr. Karsten Schwarz is a Research Associate and R&D boundary spanner at the Faculty of Medicine, Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU). He is also involved in the Dorothea Erxleben Learning Center Halle (DELH) of MLU, for which he currently coordinates the initiative “Translational Region for Digital Health” (TDG) – a federal funded project driving structural change in Halle Region through joint research and development endeavours between industry and higher education stakeholders. To add, Dr. Schwarz is part of the FORMAT Research Project group that raises awareness for and empowers professional to use digital assistive technologies in the field of nursing. Having collaborated in several and taking charge to “spin-of” joint industry-university collaboration as coordinator of TDG, Dr. Schwarz shared his valuable experience with us.
Image source: Karsten Schwarz
Starting off with the motivations for a university-business collaboration (UBC), he feels that a transfer of knowledge and the possibility to exploit research results are clear advantages that can be drawn from working together with SMEs. For a consortium to apply for EU funding has a lot to do with the generation of functioning international networks, the anticipation of good project results and the opportunity to give projects an international width play important roles as well. So much for the drivers that make an application for European funding attractive. However, all the anticipated advantages come with barriers and hurdles that may hamper the application process for the respective funding, Schwarz says, such as communication and coordination barriers among parties. Coordination and joint work can turn out very time-consuming if communication does not happen in a constructive way. He stresses that working on an international basis requires a cultural sensitivity and a certain openness to “other” ways of working. Speaking of barriers, another one would be a possible lack of agreement between executing funding agency (“Projektträger”) and the relevant ministries on the other (contradictions and ambiguities, e.g.: funding budget / co-financing quota of the partners). It can take some time until clarifications get in or requests are answered. At an earlier stage, during the project proposal, enormous bureaucratic efforts may hamper progress of a successful submission. Additionally, they experienced technical problems that led to duplication of efforts (costs which were calculated in Excel were not saved in the online-submission tool) and thus caused unnecessary delays during the proposal writing stage.
According to Dr. Schwarz, supporting mechanisms should also address issues that smaller universities and SMEs are experiencing. They could compensate for the taste of an “elite funding program” which would help separating funding programs for small universities/SMEs or specific funding criteria. Currently, there are resource imbalances for applicants (small vs. large universities). Establishing equal opportunities for small universities / small research consortia could help here. For an effective collaboration between HEI and SME on an international level, a certain moderation competence and cultural sensitivity are required from all parties involved. Important are technical competences and a sufficient understanding of the different motivation partners may have, especially, when it comes to the scientific and economic exploitation and the valorisation.
Previous cooperation experiences certainly help in setting up a proposal and later during the administrative management of the project. This accounts for funding experience with public funds and experience in working with non-university / commercial project partners. Language skills are a helpful capability when it comes to understanding the application requirements, the funding modalities and when coordinating with partners in general. A supporting element, to improve especially the proposal process, could be delivered by providing a coordinator for the consortium as well as a SME-contact point for EU applications. In addition, providing monetary compensation for the application efforts, which can turn out to be quite “resource intensive”, would also help especially smaller entities carrying the costs.
Overall, in the case of a successful funding the advantages exceed the efforts. In the other, more common case, some of the barriers mentioned should be addressed and thus removed to keep especially smaller businesses and HEIs motivated to invest financial resources and time into such projects. This could help potential consortia to “go towards Horizon Europe smoother”, Dr. Schwarz says.
MLU Medical Faculty
Translationsregion für Digitalisierte Gesundheitsversorgung – TDG