7.3Towards the top of knowledge and innovation regions in 2030

By Elie Ratinckx & Danielle Raspoet, Flemish Advisory Council for Innovation & Entrepreneurship (VARIO[1]).

A top position in research, innovation and entrepreneurship contributes to long-term economic competitiveness as well as to better adaptations to changing global value chains, higher shock resistance and resilience towards climate change, health crises, drought crises... Despite its high R&D expenditure (3.35% of GDPR[2]), however, Flanders currently ranks 27th in the newest Regional Innovation Scoreboard (RIS-2021[3]), belonging to the group of Innovation Leader-. The group of Innovation Leaders includes 38 regions and consists of three subcategories: Innovation Leader+ (above 144.8% above EU average), Innovation Leader (between 134.9% and 144,8% above EU average) and the bottom sub-group Innovation Leader- (between 125% and 134,9% of EU average). In the previous version of RIS (2019), Flanders ranked in a 40th position, belonging to the group of Strong Innovators+, the group just below the group of Innovation Leaders. However, it is not clear whether this new position is due to the new methodology of RIS-2021, due to real progress or both. The weak links in the Flemish innovation system, however, remain (cf. infra).

In its advisory report[4] 'To the top of knowledge and innovation regions in 2030', VARIO (2020) proposes an integral strategy to make a robust jump towards Innovation Leadership+ by 2030, joining the current select group of top regions in Switzerland, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Germany. VARIO focuses on seven weak links in the Flemish innovation system that should be given absolute priority in the next ten years, in order to take the entire innovation system to a higher level:

(1) The shortages in STEM[5]

(2) Lifelong learning

(3) Ambitious entrepreneurship

(4) An integrated vision on innovation

(5) Impact of public R&D investment

(6) High-tech export

(7) An efficient and effective innovation policy

Additionally, VARIO selected (8) Knowledge-intensive services as an important lever for future growth. VARIO emphasizes that reaching the top of innovative regions requires not only an efficient R&D&I system, but also a transformation of the entire society and politics[6]. This also includes a dynamic labor market, a strong future-proof education system and an efficient and effective government. 

Minister-President of the Government of Flanders Jan Jambon and Flemish Minister for Economy and Innovation Hilde Crevits asked VARIO, the Flemish Advisory Council for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, for advice on how to connect with the top innovative regions in Europe. We refer to Advice 10 'Innovative benchmark countries and regions for Flanders'[7] and Advice 11 'A high-quality set of indicators for science and innovation' in response to the first phase of the request for advice.

This text focuses on the second phase to formulate more concrete recommendations for an integrated strategy to make a robust jump to Innovation Leader+ by 2030. 
VARIO highlights the strengths and assets of the Flemish R&D&I-system, also made possible by the sustained (financial) efforts of the successive Flemish Governments. Our strengths must absolutely be maintained and therefore closely monitored; VARIO refers to the high private and public investments in R&D, the scientific excellence of our knowledge institutions, innovative SMEs that enter into many partnerships.

Considering the economic crisis resulting from COVID-19 and the consequences it will have in the medium term, VARIO also puts forward measures for innovation policy for the short-term. (See 7.3.9)

In order to ensure effective progress of the strategy, VARIO asks to evaluate and to report using interim milestones on the road to 2030, at the end of the legislature of this Flemish Government in 2024.

[1] The Flemish Advisory Council for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (Vlaamse Adviesraad voor Innoveren en Ondernemen, corresponding with VARIO) advises the Flemish Government and the Flemish Parliament on its science, technology, innovation, industry and entrepreneurship policy. VARIO works independently from the Flemish Government and the Flemish stakeholders in the field of science, innovation, industry and enterprise. https://www.vario.be/en
[2] 3%-nota 2021: https://www.ecoom.be/nl/3-procent-nota
[3] https://ec.europa.eu/growth/industry/policy/innovation/regional_en
[4] VARIO (2020). Towards the top of knowledge and innovation regions in 2030. Advisory report 14. https://www.vario.be/en/publications/adsvisory-report-14-towards-top-knowledge-and-innovation-regions-2030
[5] STEM corresponds to Science Technology Engineering & Mathematics
[6] R. Unger (2019). The knowledge economy. Verso books. https://www.versobooks.com/books/2928-the-knowledge-economy
[7] https://www.vario.be/en/node/2280

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