Interview with the President of the COST Association

Paulo Ferrão

On 21 June 2019, the COST Association welcomed Professor Paulo Ferrão as its new President. During his two-year mandate, Professor Ferrão will chair COST’s General Assembly. He is currently a full professor at the Instituto Superior Técnico, University of Lisbon, and co-founder of the IN+ Center for Innovation, Technology and Policy Research. Previously, he was President of the FCT, Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology) (2016-2019) and Director of the MIT-Portugal Program (1996- 2016). Here are some of Professor Ferrão’s views on his COST presidency:

How do you see the added value you can bring to the COST Association in your role as president?

During my mandate as President of the FCT it was clear that national funding of science is strongly benefited by well-established international networks. These are one of the most valuable assets for researchers and a key mechanism to improve their performance in many different dimensions. Coming from Portugal, a country at Europe’s western boundaries, I can testify that an instrument such as COST is crucial for connecting our researchers to international reference networks both inside and outside Europe and for improving their ability to perform world-class research. With this in mind, I feel honoured to serve as the President of COST. I have been an active researcher and professor for more than 30 years and I realise the impact a well-established network can make, especially at the beginning of our careers.

What do you consider to be the main priorities of your presidency?

2020 will be a crucial year for the EU’s research and innovation landscape, when discussions on Horizon Europe will reach their final stage. Concluding a satisfying deal for COST with the EU institutions is one of the main priorities of my mandate. It is key that COST expands its global reach.

Over the years, COST has offered its participants a larger set of networking instruments and added-value activities, such as the COST Academy. COST is able to serve 45 000 researchers per year, although the demand is ever higher. Less than half of the proposals marked as excellent cannot be funded, therefore a reinforced budget is critical. With an increased budget, COST will be able to expand the number and reach of COST Actions and offer participants greater added value. Investing in COST is investing in the future of the European Research Area (ERA).

Furthermore, a new ERA Communication will be launched in 2020. During my presidency, I want to ensure that inclusiveness and brain circulation remain two of COST’s key contributions to the ERA. As such, COST can be seen as an ERA living lab, where the sharing of knowledge and researchers is put into practice. In the spirit of the ERA, COST is characterised by a free circulation of research, knowledge and technology – creating a truly internal market for researchers and innovators.

How can COST reinforce its role in the next Framework Programme for Research and Innovation (Horizon Europe)?

Since 1971, COST has established itself as a platform where people and ideas can grow, contributing decisively to the internationalisation process of the R&I communities and to significant scientific and technological breakthroughs in Europe and beyond.

In the next Framework Programme for Research and Innovation (Horizon Europe), COST wants to play an even more active role in this respect. As concerns about the innovation divide and brain circulation in Europe move up the agenda in the months to come, COST can play an even more important part in the effort to realise Europe’s potential in research and innovation. COST’s networking tools enable researchers to create international networks of excellence while remaining in their own institution or country.

In addition, through these tools and added-value instruments, such as the COST Innovators’ Grant, we are tapping into excellent research and innovation potential, leaving no one behind.

COST’s networking tools enable researchers to create international networks of excellence while remaining in their own institution or country

In 2021, the COST Ministerial Conference will coincide with the Portuguese EU Council presidency. What commitments would you like to see from the member countries regarding the future of COST?

The Ministerial Conference in 2021 will be a milestone in the governance of COST, as it will ensure commitment to the programme at a ministerial level while guaranteeing its relevance in the long run. Renewal of the ERA and the growing importance of brain circulation will be crucial ingredients for science and innovation in the years to come. COST will play an indisputably important role in these debates, a role that needs to be strengthened and supported by all its members in the near future.

In this report we show how COST contributes to brain circulation. In your opinion, how does COST empower and retain talent in Europe?

COST’s networking activities are an ideal way to encourage brain circulation across Europe and beyond. Researchers and innovators return to their home institutions empowered with new ideas and with links to excellent international networks that last beyond the COST Action life cycle. Among the most powerful tools are the short-term scientific missions, in which researchers develop an international network with access to excellent research institutions and universities across Europe. In turn, this is a mechanism that strengthens their own institutions. Other initiatives are the COST Academy (launched in 2018) and the COST Cross-Cutting Activity on Brain Circulation, which will be launched in 2020. Through these tools, COST is limiting the brain drain to research-intense regions in Europe and is contributing to closing the research and innovation divide in Europe. COST is truly a unique tool in this respect.