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The Ministry of Science announces a competition for establishing centres of excellence

The Ministry of Science announces a competition for establishing centres of excellence
Published date: 10.10.2018 09:22 | Author: Ministry of Science

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Ministry of Science        


Pursuant to Article 13, paragraph 1, in relation to Article 10, paragraph 2, item 6 of the Law on Scientific Research Activities (Official Gazette of Montenegro 80/10 and 57/14)

MINISTRY OF SCIENCE
ANNOUNCES
A COMPETITION
FOR ESTABLISHING CENTRES OF EXCELLENCE

I INTRODUCTION

I-1 Challenges


The scientific research activity in Montenegro is mainly exercised in the higher education sector, i.e. at Montenegrin universities. Staff employed in research and development activities usually perform this activity as part of their regular working hours, predominantly dedicated to teaching activities. Research, development and innovation in the economic sector are not at a satisfactory level and only a few economic entities are recognised in the scientific research and innovation system. Such a research and development organisation results in research of small intensity and scope at the state level, which must be enhanced by new elements of the system focused on scientific research work.

Centres of excellence should bring together the best researchers and experts, focusing on full-scale research with a special emphasis on strategically defined areas, and thus directing the country’s science and economy to dynamic development. By the end of 2018, the Government of Montenegro will adopt the Smart Specialisation Strategy, and it is expected that the centres of excellence will present one of the instruments for its implementation. The centres of excellence should utilise international collaborations, as well as collaboration between different sectors and research disciplines, which helps overcome the shortcomings of individual organisations and enable faster integration and transfer of knowledge and technology.

The Strategy of Scientific Research Activities (2017-2021) and the Strategy of Innovation Activities (2016-2020) envisage a number of measures that are being implemented, in order to enable the impact of the research and innovation system on society as a whole, as well as to facilitate better internal and international integration and to provide attractive environment for research work. It is also necessary for scientific research institutions, especially those in higher education, to adapt to stronger research activities. The institutions hosting centres of excellence, primarily universities, are expected to adapt their rules of internal work and organisation, providing conditions for attracting exceptional researchers, concluding business contracts with the economy and other stakeholders in society, as well as for work on international projects, so that centres of excellence could achieve the desired dynamism.

Taking into account the fact that there are nuclei of scientific excellence in Montenegro and given the provisions of the Law on Scientific Research Activities and the 2017-2021 Strategy of Scientific Research Activities (Objective 5.1 – Human Resources and Research Capacities Development; Measure 5.1.2 – Encouraging Excellence and Networking; Activity 5.1.2.2 – Encouraging the Creation of Centres of Excellence), the intention of the universities to further develop research, entrepreneurial and broader social mission, as well as the strategic orientation of the economy towards innovation at this stage of development, the Government of Montenegro has included in its Priorities Programme the objective of establishing new centres of excellence that would be the driving force of scientific activity and the core of development and innovation activities in the country in the promising areas for Montenegro.

I-2 Subject of the competition

Research carried out in the previous period in Montenegro in certain domains has achieved solid international recognition in terms of quality. The intention behind creating new centres of excellence is to use the financing period to create conditions for a significant increase in research activity and its further intensification in the promising areas for Montenegro, defined by the Strategy of Scientific Research Activity and the Smart Specialisation Strategy, as well as by other national and local policies and plans.

This would be achieved by recruiting new people, creating programmes and business plans that place the existing knowledge in the function of achieving public and economic benefits, such as savings in public spending, better quality of public services or products and services of enterprises, as well as through an interdisciplinary and multi-sectoral approach. A centre of excellence may have the following focus:

1. Creating or significantly improving products or services for a precisely defined economic branch, which can help existing companies in Montenegro to improve their international competitiveness by integrating advanced scientific concepts, technologies and innovations into traditional economic sectors. One of the possibilities is also the establishment of new innovative start-ups with the potential for rapid growth.

2. Creating a research base for a priority state or local policy that would provide the public sector with the knowledge and specific services needed in the transformation of society (e.g. digital society, energy efficient cities, ecological Montenegro, etc.), and contribute to the creation of future markets for innovative services and products.

3. Creating a scientific research area in Montenegro that has the potential for exceptional results on the global level, which would provide a competitive advantage to the national economy and a better position of Montenegrin science on the global stage, leading also to the possibility of exponential growth in science and innovation.

The plan for the centre should clearly indicate the technology or the specific (narrow) field of science to be developed / promoted so that it could be imposed as attractive, which should be supported by a description of the current state of the science and innovation and the gap that it plans to fill on the international scientific scene and in a particular economic value chain on the national, and desirably broader level.

It is assumed that the desired results of the centre of excellence can be achieved only in close partnership with at least one of the world’s leading scientific research institutions in the field of the research concerned. It is desirable to use this partnership to strengthen ties with the Montenegrin scientific diaspora. Also, the centre’s programme should use the various opportunities Montenegro has in the domain of internationalisation (collaborations within the EU programmes H2020, Eureka, COST, EIT, EIRO-Forum Institute: CERN, EMBL, ESA, ICGEB, etc.).

Starting from the assumption that significant knowledge about problems and needs is contained in the experience of practitioners and that direct cooperation is the fastest way to knowledge integration, a key segment of work of a centre of excellence is the plan of interaction and cooperation with the interested community from the very beginning of the programme implementation. For this reason, a centre should have at least one partner from Montenegro with whom the solutions will be developed and tested. Such a partner could also be a cluster in Montenegro or the region, which would provide research support to a number of connected economic entities in a given sector of economic activity and facilitate cooperation.

In order to bring technology closer to the market and increase the absorption capacity of the market to recognise and accept new technologies, products or services, a centre should submit a plan of communication, dissemination and exploitation of research results within the application. This plan should contain events in which different actors can be informed about technology / knowledge created, contributing to further development and integration into existing value chains. The results of the meeting can be: consulting contracts, joint research, commissioned research, education, mobility, etc. Participation in events organised by strategic partners (e.g. within the EIT – European Institute for Innovation and Technology and other identified partners, networks, conferences, etc.) also presents an important segment of the dissemination plan.

Bearing in mind a small number of researchers in Montenegro and the transition period in which direct links between research and application have been interrupted, a centre should attract personnel whose knowledge is deficient and highly specialised. Also, training of high-level staff, both researchers and professional associates, is an indispensable part of the centre’s programme. It is expected that the centre of excellence itself will offer specialised training for identified target groups at a certain stage of work.

A sustainability plan in terms of independence from public funding in continued work should be an integral part of the programme. This plan should include, inter alia, the details of calls from the Horizon 2020 Programme to which the centre will apply, which will form an integral part of the evaluation and monitoring of the project. One of the possible desired effects of the programme is the creation of new subjects, study programmes or lifelong learning programmes, preferably international ones, in which case the plan should also contain application for programmes through which the educational function of the centre would be developed.

The work plan of a centre, in accordance with Article 10 of the Law on Scientific Research Activities (Official Gazette of Montenegro 80/10, 40/11, 57/14), can be modified in relation to the original plan in case of rapid changes in the technology market, in order to improve the effectiveness of work of the centre, or take advantage of new opportunities and avoid existing and potential new risks. The new plan must be positively evaluated during the periodic external evaluation of the project.

The budget for the financing of the centres of excellence programme will amount up to EUR 1,000,000 at a three-year level, provided from the funds of the Ministry of Science.

II REQUIREMENTS OF THE COMPETITION

- The main implementing body of the centre of excellence programme (hereinafter: lead institution) shall be a licensed scientific research institution from Montenegro or an innovative organisation from Montenegro, which is a legal entity that establishes the centre of excellence.

- The lead institution shall conclude a partnership with an exceptional research or innovative organisation from abroad (from the academic or economic sector).

- The lead institution shall also conclude a partnership relationship with at least one additional legal entity from Montenegro, which can be from different sectors (business, public, civil, academic) depending on the needs of the business plan.

- Cooperation with other additional relevant organisations can be established through their involvement in the advisory board of the centre.

- If a centre is established as an independent legal entity or at least as an organisational unit of an existing legal entity (lead institution) at the time of filing the application, this is considered an advantage of the programme. If this is not the case, it is expected that the legal status of the centre will be regulated in this manner by the end of the second year of the implementation of the centre’s programme.

- The centre’s manager should be employed on a full-time basis on this job and should organise a research and administrative team that implements the centre’s programme. The manager should have a PhD degree in science and should possess exceptional leadership qualities in science, integration of knowledge into the economic or public sector and management. It is desirable that other persons engaged are also employed within the centre’s programme for as many working hours as possible. It is also desirable for a centre to employ young researchers (doctoral and master students) in addition to experienced ones.

- It is necessary that the lead institution (centre’s host) has, at the time of application to this Competition, an adopted internal act that ensures sufficient independence of the centre in decision-making, determining the level of salaries and other important work elements. Internal rules on the work of the centre are also the subject of evaluation of the application.

- Partners in the centre of excellence programme shall regulate mutual legal relations, including co-financing, intellectual property rights and other issues of vital importance by concluding a partnership agreement, which is an integral part of the application.

- Additional programme financing may be provided by one or more partners of the centre, as well as by an entity outside the consortium. In both cases, valid legal documents should be submitted (contracts, preliminary contracts, etc.). In evaluation, priority shall be given to programmes where there are additional sources of financing in addition to the Ministry of Science and the independent participation of the lead institution.

- The Ministry of Science shall not finance procurement of equipment already available in scientific research institutions in Montenegro.

- The application documentation for the Competition shall submitted in English, due to the international evaluation of the programme.

- General provisions on the financing of centre of excellence programmes are set out in the Law on Scientific Research Activities (Official Gazette of Montenegro 80/10, 40/11, 57/14) and the Rulebook on conditions for the approval and use of funds from the budget of Montenegro for the implementation of the centre of excellence programmes (Official Gazette of Montenegro 60/17).

III PROJECT APPLICATION CONTENTS:

Applicants to this Competition should submit:

1. Application in the prescribed form;
2. CVs of the members of the centre’s team (manager and lead researchers from the lead institution as well as from partner institutions), including the main publications (up to 10, a greater number of publications will not be considered). For persons whose employment is planned through the project, it is necessary to submit a description of the qualifications, knowledge and skills they need to possess, as well as the vacation announcement plan and the selection procedure. Procedures should be consistent with the principles set out in the European Charter for Researchers & the Code of Conduct for their Recruitment (Charter & Code EU);
3. A list of references on the most important projects and contracts of research, development and innovation implemented by project manager up to the date of publication of this Competition, in the capacity of a manager or team member;
4. Tables of the detailed programme budget (Excel table from the Competition documentation);
5. Internal rulebook / act of the lead institution on the position of the centre in the organisational scheme (or establishment plan) and decision-making rights of the manager and other bodies of the centre (a relevant excerpt in English).
6. Evidence (letter of intent / preliminary contract, etc.) on available and allocated funds for co-financing of the centre’s work, including own and additional financing;
7. Annual balance sheet of the lead institution for the previous two years;
8. Certificate on settled tax obligations or a contract on the gradual settlement of tax obligations;
9. Confirmation or certificate that no bankruptcy and liquidation proceedings have been instituted against the organisation;
10. Letters of intent of key partners on accepting participation in the programme, with precisely specified domains of contribution to the work of the centre;
11. Preliminary contract of the consortium that defines the internal relations between the partners; and
12. Possible preliminary contracts / contracts with additional programme financing entities.

IV BUDGET OF THE COMPETITION

Co-financing by the Ministry of Science shall amount up to 75% of the programme’s total eligible costs that include direct, indirect and contingency costs. Funds for the second and third year shall be paid after obtaining a positive annual external evaluation for the previous year.

For the centre of excellence programme, the Ministry of Science shall recognise a rate of 20% of indirect costs – administrative, overhead and other costs, as well as 5% of contingency costs, which can be included in the amount of the grant (amounts are determined as a fixed percentage relative to the actual direct costs within the grant requested).

The lead institution is obliged to co-finance at least 25% of the total costs of the centre (sum of direct, indirect and contingency costs), with an independent decision on the category in which the costs will be co-financed. The lead institution is obliged to report on all the costs incurred on the project, including the costs covered by itself.

As for the maximum amount of salaries that the Ministry of Science co-finances from the funds of this Competition, the salary scale applied at the University of Montenegro shall apply, increased by up to 30% as a special incentive for excellence, in accordance with the Rulebook on conditions for the approval and use of funds from the budget of Montenegro for the implementation of the centre of excellence programmes (Official Gazette of Montenegro 60/17). As for the salaries determined by the lead institution in the amount higher than the above, the lead institution shall co-finance the difference on its own.

The total programme budget shall include the bill of quantities of the lead institution and other partners. Costs of a foreign partner may refer to the costs of engaging experts – researchers or technical and support staff, as well as travel expenses.

Notwithstanding the above, in case the lead institution or a programme partner is a commercial company from Montenegro, the budget of such a partner shall be subject to the state aid rules, which means that the maximum share of co-financing in relation to the total budget would be the following:

- 70 % for micro and small enterprises / organisations with up to 49 employees;
- 60 % for medium-sized enterprises / organisations with 50 to 249 employees; and
- 50 % for large enterprises / organisations with more than 250 employees.

Eligible costs

Direct costs – salary costs:

• The cost of engagement of the programme team in accordance with the Rulebook on centres of excellence;
• The cost of hiring highly qualified staff on a full-time basis during the duration of the programme;
• Expert / consulting services for research, development and innovation.

Direct costs – material costs:

Procurement of necessary equipment (up to 20% of the approved co-financing funds);
Costs of organising the events for knowledge dissemination;
Travel costs;
Scholarship and advanced courses costs;
Prototype production costs;
Intellectual property protection costs (patent application and accompanying costs, certification, standards, substantive patent examination, etc.);
Marketing activities aimed at bringing innovation to the stage of readiness for investment and maturity for market placement;
Other operating costs, including the costs of consumables and related products that have incurred directly as a result of research / innovation activity;
Minor construction works (reconstruction or adaptation of space / laboratory);
Other costs that are deemed necessary for programme implementation, for which the approval of the supervisory body of the Ministry of Science has been obtained.

Indirect and contingency costs:

• Indirect costs (overhead, administrative, lease of business premises). Within the grant of the Ministry of Science, calculation of indirect costs is allowed up to 20% in relation to direct costs. Administrative staff costs should be accounted for in the category of direct costs of engagement;
• Within the grant, contingency costs may amount to up to 5% in relation to direct costs.

Ineligible costs:

• The costs already financed through another project or programme either by partners or in other organisations in Montenegro;
• All costs incurred before the start date of the project;
• Purchase of land and real estate, procurement of vehicles, buildings;
• Losses due to negative exchange rate differences, fees and penalties;
• Repayment of interest or debt that exists to anyone;
• Advance payments, unless there is an advance guarantee; and
• Other costs assessed by the supervisory body of the Ministry of Science as unnecessary, unauthorised or inappropriate, either in terms of the amount or content-wise.

V CONTRACT DURATION

The centre’s financing contract shall be concluded for three years, provided that the annual external work evaluation is positive and recommends the continuation of funding. The contract may be extended in case of a need to complete the research programme, depending on the available budget funds. The contract shall also contain penal provisions in case of negative evaluation of programme work, including the obligation to return funds to the state budget.

VI EVALUATION OF APPLICATIONS

The administrative verification of the applications received for the Competition shall be conducted by the Ministry. All project applications that meet the Competition requirements and satisfy the administrative verification shall be referred to evaluation.

The evaluation shall be carried out by international experts in two phases:

- The first phase: The evaluation of the complete applications shall be carried out by an international team of experts appointed by the Ministry of Science. Their task is to carry out the evaluation of applications and supporting documentation electronically, submitting an individual evaluation report of the first evaluation phase.

- The second phase: Implies interviews with teams of the project proposals that have been positively evaluated in the first phase. These are to be conducted by the Final Evaluation Commission, composed of three international experts appointed by the Ministry of Science.

The ranking list of applications is submitted by the Commission to the Ministry of Science, which makes a final decision on the financing of a centre of excellence programme at the proposal of the Council for Scientific Research Activities.

VII PROJECT EVALUATION CRITERIA

Scientific and innovation potential of the future centre of excellence, the potential for expansion of scientific research activity in the chosen work discipline and its place in the socio-economic environment of Montenegro and the region; quality of scientific research team, i.e. CVs of the manager and key researchers; human resources strategy, employment of new persons on the project, especially of young researchers and professional associates. The most important element in this criterion is the CV of the manager and the research team; (total: 50 points),

Implementation and feasibility – work plan; efficient budget allocation; existing spatial capacities and equipment; ensuring the independence of the centre in decision-making at the level of the lead institution; plan of achieving self-sustainability; integration with other support instruments in the country and at the international level; additional funding provided; quality of partnerships and legal relations between them; risk management plan (total: 20 points), and

Impact – how will the programme increase the scientific capacities of Montenegro and make them capable of strategically focusing on significant growth and long-term opportunities for economic development; how it will achieve better international integration; how it will contribute, in the medium and long term, to the advancement of scientific and innovation culture and which place it will occupy in the national innovation ecosystem; how will the integration or transfer of knowledge and technology into existing value chains or public services be achieved and with what results; how it will affect the education system; how it will maintain the level of scientific excellence measured by the indicators defined; (total: 30 points).

Impact indicators to be considered during ex-post-periodic and final evaluation: Number of employed persons in research; Number of young researchers employed / Number of scientific publications in the highest category of international journals / Value of contracts implemented with innovative enterprises and other investors; / Number of EU patents applied in the field of work of the centre (“examination research” phase) / Degree of technology advancement on the TRL scale compared to the previous situation / Services or products created with high added value for integration into existing value chains / Number of project proposals submitted for the H2020 / Erasmus + / Eureka / national funding programmes and amount of withdrawn funds; / Number of start-up projects generated from the centre; / Number of organised events, method of knowledge management and its dissemination in society.

VIII ETHICAL ISSUES


In the process of preparing the programme proposal, the applicants shall observe the ethical principles and rules.
If the programme proposal implies any ethical issues, the applicant shall submit the approval of the Ethics Committee and / or provide other relevant evidence on the manner of resolving the ethical issue.

IX DEADLINE FOR APPLICATIONS

The deadline for submission of applications is 29 March 2019, by 3 pm.

X CONTRACT CONCLUSION

The Ministry will conclude a contract with the lead institution of the centre / centres accepted for funding on the basis of the ranking list, rendered decision of the Ministry pursuant to the proposal of the Council for Scientific Research Activities, and the requested and available budget. This contract shall regulate mutual rights and obligations.

XI SUBMISSION OF APPLICATIONS

Filled and signed application with supporting documentation shall be delivered in one printed copy (original) to the address of the Ministry of Science, Rimski trg br. 46, 81000 Podgorica, with the following designation: Prijava na konkurs za program uspostavljanja novih centara izvrsnosti. The application must also be submitted electronically, via the website of the Ministry of Science, i.e. the e-Government Portal (the link will be made available timely).

The application form and the budget table can be downloaded from the website of the Ministry of Science, at: http://www.mna.gov.me/biblioteka/Konkursi

The contact person in the Ministry of Science: Branka Žižić, branka.zizic@mna.gov.me

[1] http://www.mna.gov.me/ministarstvo/Strategija_pametne_specijalizacije/
[1] Priority research sub-areas within broader areas, as defined in the 2017-2021 Strategy of Scientific Research Activities, see: http://www.mna.gov.me/ResourceManager/FileDownload.aspx?rId=301212&rType=2

Appendix 1: Application form
Appendix 2: Budget plan table

Text of the Competition