The Portuguese research and development (R&D) situation changed rapidly in the second half of the 2000-2009 decade, with the GERD/GDP ratio peaking at a historical high of 1.64% in 2009.
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Since then, however, that ratio has been declining and it scored 1.50% in 2012, according to provisional information. The steady progress in R&D expenditure over the 2000-2009 decade resulted from a co-evolution of private and public funding. In 2001 the GERD/GDP ratio was still 0.85%. In that year the share of the public sector in the total financing of R&D was 61% and the share of the private business sector was still 32%. Portugal reached for the first time ever a R&D/GDP ratio above 1% in 2007, with the business sector becoming since that year the most important R&D performer. By 2012 the business sector accounted for 47% of the national GERD.
Despite these changes, R&D governance is still largely dominated by the public sector. The research system has been marked by a high degree of centralization, through fund allocation and political coordination. The formal structures for hearing the main stakeholders have not been used often. The country does not undertake multi-annual planning, with national R&D budgets being announced annually together with the preparation of the national government budget. At €1,748m in 2011 the government budget appropriations or outlays for R&D were kept relatively unchanged in relation to the two previous years. For 2012, however, the value of €1551m represents a significant setback in relation to the rising trend of the last decade.
Since the mid-1990s the national research policy pursued two main inter-related goals, ‘Excellence’ and ‘Internationalisation’ of the research system. The setting of an evaluation system with a strong participation of foreign experts to assess research projects and the academic research units was instrumental in promoting those goals. Further, over the last decade Portugal has been increasingly active in ERA-oriented policies, but at the same time the country established several contracts with US universities for developing activities concerning the promotion of PhD programmes and joint research projects.
The development of the academic research system was possible through the combination of national funds with resources from the EU structural funds. The basic management of this system has matured, with an organization operating as the research council (FCT - Foundation for S&T). The FCT provides the basic funding for the R&D units for periods as long as five years and organizes their regular evaluation. The scientific development roots go, however, further back in time. In terms of resource allocation a continuous effort has been made in Portugal since the 1960s to develop and strengthen the science base. This development has been achieved through the implementation of policies directed towards the training of younger scientists, the funding of basic science and the creation of universities. The threshold of 1,000 new PhDs per year was reached in 2003 and the most recent figures show that the number of new PhD graduates is now above 2,000 per year (2,209 in 2012). Research output has also been expanding rapidly, with 1567 ISI publications per million inhabitants in 2012, while in 2000 the performance was still at 435 publications per million inhabitants.
However, the development of academic research has not been even. The public labs system that yet a few decades ago represented the most dynamic R&D agency in Portugal has been declining in terms of available resources and global activity. A thorough review of the public labs sector was initiated in the sequence of a Council of Ministers’ Resolution taken in June 2006, but it did not lead to a revival of this sector.
Role of Business
On the business side the evolution of research output has been less impressive, despite the significant rise in R&D investment that happened in the second half of the 2000-2009 decade. The number of patents filed by Portuguese firms both at the European Patent Office (EPO) and at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) remained until very recently well below other countries with similar GDP per capita levels. As for 2012, the EPO granted 30 patents to applicants whose country of residence is Portugal, while the USPTO granted 47 utility patents in which the first inventor had a Portuguese address.
The weak involvement of business firms in R&D activities until the most recent years stemmed, above all, from the structural composition of the economy and from the low challenges raised to large incumbent firms in the domestic market. The fact that the country has lacked a significant number of technologically sophisticated firms has also contributed to an insufficient involvement of the business sector in setting national research priorities. Despite these problems the structural composition of the economy has changed to a certain extent, with some medium-tech activities emerging since the 1990s, and also a rising of knowledge-intensive business services (KIBS).