SOMMa aims at promoting Spanish science of excellence and safeguarding its competitiveness

On past Monday March the 12th, representatives of the SOMM alliance, together with the Spanish State Secretary for R+D+i, Carmen Vela, met in Madrid, at the Spanish Ministry of Economy, Industry and Competitiveness. There, SOMMa presented the website of the alliance as well as the document entitled “SOMMa Position Paper: Actions required to safeguarding science competitiveness”, first contribution of the alliance towards science policy.

SOMMa aims at increasing the impact of Spanish research and to have a voice in science policy both in Spain and in Europe

Teresa Garcia-Milà, director of the Barcelona Graduate School of Economics (Barcelona GSE), and Vice-chair of the alliance, started pointing out that Spanish science does currently compete successfully at an international level. The union of centres and units into an alliance as SOMMa allows them to join efforts, further increasing their impact, while promoting collaboration and networking. SOMMa expects to contribute to enrich the Spanish R+D ecosystem in the long run.

The huge staff base of SOMMa, its sustained training rate of numerous Ph.D. graduates every year, the more than considerable combined funding of its members, and its impressive overall yearly research article output underscore its relevance. The translation of research into business materializes as well in the form of numerous patents, collaborations and contracts with companies, and an off-growth of spin-offs stemming from SOMMa member institutions.

Spanish Secretary of State R+D+I, Carmen Vela, acknowledging the relevance of the alliance, stressed the role of the Severo Ochoa and María de Maeztu programs in enhancing the impact of awardee institutions. The opportunity that the alliance provides for SOMMa members to work together, will expectedly allow to expand their competitiveness, and international leadership.

Luis Serrano, Carmen Vela and Teresa Garcia-Milà during the SOMMa presentation
Luis Serrano, Carmen Vela and Teresa Garcia-Milà during the SOMMa presentation

Concerns are, alas, also raised during the event, as is stressed in the presented document by SOMMa and other supporting organizations from the science and innovation sectors. The decrease of public R+D funding, and the appearance of new, difficult to apply administrative duties may constrain Spanish science profoundly. To that regard, the need for an agreement on adequate regulations, within the framework of European legislation, which would safeguard the competitiveness of the sector is stressed.

Luis Serrano, president of SOMMa and director at CRG, agreed on the efforts of the Spanish State Secretariat for R+D+i to create and preserve the Severo Ochoa and María de Maeztu program even in light of the economic crisis and severe public budget adjustments. Regardless of that, he highlighted as well the importance of continued investment in science, which requires a long-running State agreement.

In concordance, SOMMa requests a firm commitment of the State to uphold funding levels. It is noted that both the funding and administrative situation requires of a resolute political will to be solved. Regarding the new administrative requirements, which put research institutions on the same level with public administrations, it is highlighted that those organisations are of a very different nature. The disregard of the particularities of research, in fact, potentially makes sustainable, high-level science impracticable. This situation is causing, yet, very serious problems to a number of research centres, situations that can potentially affect the rest of the Spanish R+D system.

SOMMa Position Paper: Actions required to safeguarding science competitiveness” draws the attention of politicians for the resolution of severe issues compromising Spanish research.

SOMMa attempts to draw the attention of the political class towards that direction: the document SOMMa Position Paper: Actions required to safeguarding science competitiveness exposes those issues, proposing possible solutions. In short, the problems described in the position paper are three: the criteria for VAT deduction, difficulties referring to personnel hiring regulations, and new public-tenders law.

Firstly, there is a need to have a clear, transparent regulation about the criteria for the deduction of VAT taxation on research funds. This would guarantee the legal safety of institutions, in a context in which VAT inspections are happening on a more systematic basis.

With current regulations, the VAT ratio deductible off research funding has no standardized methodology. This involves an arbitrary process generating asymmetries clearly detrimental to some, and potentially to many other institutions. In addition, the possibility of demands for retroactive reimbursement to the State of yet previously deducted VAT becomes a further threat to the economic viability of public research organizations.

The solution proposed to address this matter is to provide research and basic research in particular, with the category of economic activity, and the consideration of activity of general interest. The consequence of this would be that competitive funding for research would not be subject to VAT taxation.

Next, the modification of public-tender regulations for research centres and universities is proposed, without disregard of the related European regulations. This would allow adapting better to the needs and particular nature of research institutions. It would, as well, contribute to the needed administrative burden reduction.

Finally, the loosening of existing limits to the staff turnover rate, particularly for structural staff. In connection, enabling the inclusion of certain non-permanent, open-ended contract typologies. These contracts, eventually, could be financed with competitive funds from the State’s R+D+i Grants scheme. This would enable institutions to better adapt to the personnel requirements stemming from research.

Group picture of SOMMa representatives and Spanish State Secretary for R+D+i
Group picture of SOMMa representatives and Spanish State Secretary for R+D+i

Considering all the previous, SOMMa proposes to reach a transversal agreement that should be backed by all parliament groups, taking into account the exposed problems and solutions. This would benefit not only the centres and units of the alliance, but the R+D system in Spain as a whole.

Science, if it is to have a bright future, needs to be present in the political agenda. SOMMa hopes to be able to work together with the Spanish Secretariat for R+D+i in that direction, hopefully bearing fruitful results for the Spanish research ecosystem.