Building a future science and education system fit to deliver to practice
Transition towards more sustainable agriculture, forestry, food and bio-based value chains, equipped to face the challenges ahead, requires a renewal and strengthening of the technical and soft skills of all concerned. Along with ensuring delivery of peer-reviewed output from practice-oriented research, this will contribute to an efficient and interactive agricultural knowledge and innovation system (AKIS).
In 2010, 71% of European farm managers were operating on the basis of practical experience only. Education levels vary greatly depending on country, farm manager's age and gender, or farm structures, and this can hamper innovation. As the proportion of farmers with secondary and tertiary education rises, education will play an increasing role in farmers' capacity to co-create and implement new techniques and practices, anticipate and adapt to legislative, policy, market and environmental changes, design innovative ways of marketing their products and take part in interactive innovation systems and networks. New production processes and new types of supply chain in the wood, food and bio-based industry sectors also create a business demand for new skills. On the science side, there may be a shortage of researchers and capacities in fields of science of crucial importance for sustainable agriculture which are under-developed or unattractive in Europe.
While basic research remains necessary, a crucial challenge is also to remove bottlenecks to the delivery of practice-oriented research to end-users. Current research evaluation systems are based mainly on scientific publications and give little incentive, appreciation or reward to scientists willing to invest in practice-oriented research. Some front-runners are engaging in new ways of rating such research activities that deserve to be assessed, applied to agriculture and may be upscaled to a wider range of research providers and funding bodies.
Proposals will involve the production of a challenge- and foresight-based inventory of skills that will be needed in agriculture, forestry and related value chains, covering primary producers, advisors, industry, businesses and scientists. Proposals will review how current science, education and training systems in a wide and varied range of EU Member States (and possibly third countries) cater for these needs, seeking to draft roadmaps for the improvement of curricula, learning methods and long-term interaction between education, science and economic players. Particular attention should be paid to soft (e.g. entrepreneurial, intermediation and communication) skills in particular for farmers, advisors and researchers, and technical skills related to new practices or processes and sustainability requirements in scientific fields of importance for the future. Needs should be differentiated in the light of the variety of farming systems, current trends in structural change, emerging business models in farming and subsequent value chains and geographical conditions. Proposals should analyse how education and training systems could improve, in particular by attracting more farmers and other players to engage in sufficient education and lifelong learning and by ensuring that these systems are fit for purpose and permanently updated. Piloting of new curricula and training methods in some of the participating institutions could be considered. The effectiveness of existing EU policy instruments on education and training in this area should also be assessed and improvements proposed. Proposals will take into account relevant EU initiatives to ensure potential synergies (e.g. Erasmus+, Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions, Knowledge and Innovation Community Food for Future, etc.).
Furthermore, proposals should develop an operational system for encouraging and measuring performance and reviewing outputs of interactive innovation and practice-oriented research, with a view to improving their effective delivery and the uptake of best practices from the field. They should build on front-running initiatives and assess different options currently being tested in the EU or elsewhere (e.g. the EIP-AGRI common format). Activities should deliver practical methodologies and criteria for i) measuring performance of research providers and projects with regard to their outputs for practice; and ii) translating academic knowledge into practical knowledge easily understandable by end-users. To this end, proposals should develop a peer-review system for research outputs ready-made for delivery to farmers and foresters, exploring all components required to operate such a system.
Proposals should build on the analysis to make further policy recommendations on how to develop education, training and science in the future. Proposals should fall under the concept of the 'multi-actor approach' and be highly participatory, involving specialised education bodies, farming/forestry sector representatives and advisors from the outset of project development to maximise bottom-up elaboration and final uptake of project results. It may be useful to involve authorities in charge of curriculum development and measuring research impact. Communication and dissemination activities should reach out far beyond the consortium to improve the uptake of research results.
The Commission considers that proposals requesting a contribution from the EU of up to EUR 7 million allow this specific challenge to be addressed appropriately. Nonetheless, this does not preclude the submission and selection of proposals requesting other amounts.
This action should improve the performance of science and education systems and their benefits for agricultural and forestry sectors and related industries. The following impacts are expected:
- a shared inventory of the skills needed for a transition to more competitive and sustainable agriculture and related value chains, serving as a basis for continuous and longer-term cooperation between education bodies across Europe, leading to intensified exchanges and regular updates of the inventory;
- improved technical and soft skills for farmers, foresters, advisors, industry employees and scientists, translating into better farm management, increased competitiveness, sustainability and resilience to environmental, climate and market changes;
- greater awareness of gaps in research capacities and specific fields of science of crucial importance for sustainable agriculture;
- increased efficiency of agricultural knowledge and innovation systems in the EU thanks to i) improved linkages between education, science and economic players, ii) enhanced capacity of players to interact with one another, and iii) contribution to an institutional shift towards better recognition and rewarding of practice-oriented research;
- improved quality and usefulness of research outputs for the immediate use by farmers, foresters or value-chain businesses, thanks to a peer-review system leading to an improved implementation of research results by end-users and an innovative agricultural sector; and
- recommendations for improved policies for education, agriculture, research and innovation at European, national and regional levels.
Socio-economic science and humanities