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NextGenerationEU: national plans for knowledge development

On 31 May, the Council received green light on the Own Resources Decision, which establishes how the EU budget is financed, from all 27 member states. As national ratifications were completed in record five months, the European Commission could start borrowing funds under the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) as of 1 June 2021. With a financial envelope of EUR 672.5 billion, the RRF is the central part of Next Generation EU, the EU instrument for economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Member states submitted their national recovery and resilience plans to the Commission earlier this spring. In June, the Commission endorsed the first series of plans put forward by Austria, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Portugal, Slovakia and Spain. Nearly all of them aim to support education, particularly its digitalisation dimension, with investments in digital equipment or digital skills, although the level of such support might vary across the countries. Several countries put forward more specific measures aiming to improve educational outcomes (e.g. Germany) or to compensate for educational and learning deficits due to the pandemic (e.g. Austria).Greece has proposed the biggest portfolio of EUR 2.3 billion to reform its education, training and life-long learning system combined with investments in upskilling and reskilling programmes.

Several countries have designed measures to foster research, development and innovation (e.g. Denmark, Italy, Spain) and to create a better environment for this area. For example, Latvia will increase its participation in the network of European Digital Innovation Hubs. In Slovakia, research, development and innovation are addressed with comprehensive measures that are expected to tackle the low quality and inclusiveness of education, fragmented research, development and innovation policy coordination, insufficient public-private cooperation, and weak research, development and innovation performance.

Prepared with strong involvement of ACA’s member SAIA, Slovakia’s national plan contains two components to promote internationalisation of higher education and research, focusing on “Talent attraction” (component 10; EUR 106 million) and “Science, Research and Innovation” (component 9; EUR 633 million). The government will introduce a new scholarship programme to attract talented international full-degree students to study in Slovakia. Overall, 200 scholarships are expected to be awarded every year. Further investments are foreseen to increasescholarship rates under various bilateral and multilateral mobility agreements, conduct internationalisation audits, support joint study programmes and to promote Slovak higher education at national and institutional level. Funding will also be allocated to improve the participation of Slovak institutions in Horizon Europe (e.g. by financing higher education institutions with a “Seal of Excellence” label). Investments will also be made to offer scientific fellowships to attract foreign researchers at various career levels (ca. 425 scholarships granted in 2022-2023). It is foreseen that all created schemes and investments shall be regularly monitored, evaluated, and if successful continued after the end of the RRF. This is a great example of how this framework can be used to foster higher education and research and international collaborations.

The Commission is expected to review the national recovery and resilience plans submitted by other member states in the period between May and June later this summer.