by Stelios Orphanoudakis
The Foundation for Research and Technology-Hellas (FORTH) has been established as a research center monitored by the Greek Ministry of Industry, Energy and Technology with two primary objectives: 1) To conduct high quality research in leading edge scientific and technological disciplines, and 2) To provide the means for linking its R&D effort with the needs of Greek industry and public administration in order to partially fund its own R&D activities and to contribute toward increased productivity of both the public and the private sectors of the local and national economy.
Regarding the first objective, FORTH's seven institutes currently cover the disciplines of computer science, molecular biology and biotechnology, electronic structure and lasers, applied and computational mathematics, chemical engineering, and mediterranean studies. Through its active participation in national and European competitive R&D programmes, FORTH has established itself as one of the major research institutions in Europe. FORTH now faces the challenge of how to sustain this success in the years to come. This challenge is primarily of a financial nature, given the fact that FORTH is highly dependent on competitively earned funds which are gradually becoming more and more difficult to obtain. Therefore, meeting the second objective above is becoming increasingly important and, in recent years, it has required the redefinition of priorities and strategies which will lead to a proper balance between continuing to play its role as a center of excellence in research and establishing a shell of activities, which will result in marketable products and services, based on close and equitable cooperation with industry.
In pursuing the second objective, FORTH is mandated to market its products and services, alone or through its participation in subsidiary and spin-off companies in Greece and abroad. In addition, FORTH has established Science and Technology Parks at its facilities in Heraklion, Thessaloniki and Patras, in order to have direct communication channels with certain companies that share common interests with one or more of the FORTH Institutes, thus enabling a mutually beneficial transfer of technological know-how, stimulating innovation, and identifying potential markets for its R&D results and services. Todate, several spin-offs have been created and are currently operating out of the Science and Technology Park of Crete (STEP-C), one being the company that manages STEP-C itself.
The future for academic and research institutions in Europe and throughout the world is uncertain. ERCIM and its network of industrial partners can work together to find solutions which will be mutually beneficial. It appears that strategic alliances between ERCIM member institutions and industry ought to be important to both sides, and ultimately to Europe as a whole. FORTH sees many opportunities in its participation in ERCIM. European industry ought to see that there are opportunities in its equitable cooperation with ERCIM institutes and the ERCIM organization as a whole. Afterall, ERCIM is a significant distributed think-tank and R&D center, whose potential can be exploited by industry. Let us all work to put in place mechanisms which will make this strategic cooperation with industry a reality, thus providing viable alternatives to maintaining a strong research and development effort in Europe, reducing unemployment, and creating a financial environment in the new information society which benefits all its members.