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Investing in R&D: why should Italy do it?

Modalità digitale, 26/01/2021, Digital Panel Discussion

Research is one of the assets that Italy needs to tap as it strives to jumpstart the economy. The pandemic and the science community’s rapid response to the virus have further emphasized the importance of a competitive ecosystem in this sector. Italy’s National Recovery and Resilience Plan offers an opportunity to invest both in basic research and in subsequent development and technology transfer stages. The country can claim a certain amount of progress over recent years, but intervention is still necessary in a range of areas.

First of all, the quality and stability of projects needs to be improved, with greater resources allotted to those of “vital national interest” known as PRIN projects. Regular funding, moreover, offers researchers career prospects that can help to alleviate the “brain drain” problem that continues to afflict Italy, and which needs to be countered by creating new jobs and boosting research infrastructure that remain an obvious qualifying factor.

Italy already has the resources it needs to get started: expert, experienced researchers such as those of Human Technopole who have shown how it is possible to create internationally recognized centers of excellence. It is equally clear, however, that these projects must be part of a broader national strategy that creates a critical mass, so as to attract investment and human capital. An efficient ecosystem also requires cohesive policies that facilitate dialogue between research centers and universities in addition to that between researchers and industry.

Italian businesses are an essential interlocutor and have proven their ability to seize the innovative opportunities offered by new technology. Indeed, Industry 4.0 has helped plump up the manufacturing surplus considerably, and placed Italy among the top five countries of the world in this category.

Next Generation EU is a major opportunity to make the most of strong points and address unresolved problems. However, the European funds cannot trigger a true transformation in the absence of efficacious planning and the administrative capacity to manage these massive resources and monitor their impact. International success stories show that a competitive research system generates a multiplier effect by attracting talent and resources, and has a positive influence on both scientific and economic output. This is what Italy needs at this historic moment in order to put its wealth of skills to use in the service of development and collective prosperity.