In an interview given recently to Diário de Notícias, the Minister of Science, Technology and Higher Education highlighted the great increase in spending on research in the last five years, which led it to reach 1.6% of GDP in 2020. It is, without a doubt. , a significant milestone when compared to what had been registered, although it should also be remembered that this is an occurrence identical to that verified in 2009.
It should also be mentioned that the Innovation Strategy approved by the Council of Ministers in March 2018 predicted that investment in R&D will rise to 1.8% of GDP in 2020. On the other hand, when compared to the European Union average, that situated at around 2.2%, it appears that the effort that Portugal made in research last year was not, after all, as significant as desirable. This is without underestimating the effect of the pandemic, which, it must be recognized, has slowed down scientific activity in several areas.
Contrary to what many people think, the main effort in terms of investigation is made by companies. In fact, a total of 3.2 billion euros invested last year in R&D, 57% comes from the business side. Higher education is responsible for 36%, with the rest being the responsibility of the State and non-profit institutions.
In this context, the great challenge for universities is related to the valorization of the scientific knowledge they generate. For this, they must adopt effective policies that unlock the transformation of knowledge into useful solutions that can be based on efficiency gains or on the differentiation of products and services that leverage the economy of the economy.
This process of transformation (and not the transfer of knowledge as it is often claimed) can take place in three ways. First, for the protection and commercialization of intellectual property, namely patents. Then, for the development of applied research projects based on partnerships involving universities and companies. And, thirdly, by promoting the emergence of spin-offs university-based, mainly from incubators and science and technology parks.
If it is true that the mechanisms are well identified – and there are, by the way, excellent examples of success in the Portuguese scientific and technological environment – the truth is that we have to go much further, overcoming barriers and difficulties that still persist.
The main obstacle lies in the difference in organizational culture that exists between the academic world and the business world. Only when we have universities with a more entrepreneurial spirit and companies with a Mentality more open to science is that it will be possible to take advantage of all the knowledge generated in our country.
If it is true that entrepreneurs and managers have to change their mentality, it is no less true that the universities’ side will also have to change a lot. In order for it to become more entrepreneurial, it is necessary to change its governance model, the status of the teaching career, the funding policy, the pedagogical model and the internationalization strategy.
Until such changes have taken place, much of the necessary knowledge will “gain mold” on any shelf (physical or digital) and Portugal will continue to have the luxury of not taking advantage, in terms of wealth creation, of too large a slice of the investment it makes in it.
Professor at the University of Porto – Faculty of Economics and Porto Business School