Home Education Higher Education Institutions in the EU: Between Competition and Public Service
Commissioning of Research
The funding agencies determine who can apply for a specific call which, according to the interviewees, varies. An interviewee working on public funding streams mentioned that most calls are for universities and, depending on the call, partners. Only few schemes have a reverse approach. If partners are allowed or even required, there are, as has been mentioned above (Sect. 5.4.5), occasionally limita- tions/requirements as to which kind of partner organisations need to be involved. As discussed in Chap. 3 (Sect. 188.8.131.52) and more specifically for England earlier in this chapter (Sect. 5.3.11), if public calls can be classified as economic activities, they would need to be commissioned according to the Altmark criteria or the rules set out in the Research Framework which contain that calls need to be nondiscriminatory and that prices reflecting market value usually need to be charged for it not to constitute state aid.
State Aid Through Staff Knowledge
In the Netherlands, according to the interviewees, university staff do sometimes work in the private sector. In these cases academics would still have to follow the national code on academic integrity which researchers needed to sign and which require them inter alia to behave ethical, trustworthy and carefully. Sometimes, staff work in their own companies spun out of the university. This would be a preferred situation, as staff can retain their employment within the university whilst experimenting with the setting up and running of a company. It was mentioned by some interviewees, that such constellations became problematic if staff were in managerial positions and able to sign contracts for both sides. This would be a concern because the university could not be certain that these members of staff represented the university to its best interest. One interviewee working on legal aspects specifically mentioned, as an area for concern, the potential of favours given to spin-offs led/owned by employees because this could constitute state aid. He said that this is difficult for the research office to scrutinise since academics are managed by line management not by the research offices and the former are not involved in the spin-offs activities. However, such constellations would be rare, as most companies would quickly spin out properly and very close ties are only maintained with few. Generally, the interviewees also mentioned IPR issues which needed to be negotiated as regards ownership and publication of results as a concern in cases where staff worked in the private sector. Beyond these issues, as one interviewee working on policy pointed out, there is not much concern as regards staff knowledge being used in the private sector. Instead, the exchange would be regarded as mutually beneficial. From a competition law perspective, provided an economic activity is taking place, such arrangements could be problematic, if advantages are bestowed on companies through staff knowledge, in particular IPR creation or favourable contract conditions given to staff owned companies. There may be exemption possibilities, as we will see in the next section (Sect. 5.4.13), especially if the circumstances can qualify as innovation aid for SME which specifically involves staff exchanges.
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