A national strategy for increasingly specialised regions
During the 2010s, site policies agreed between actors in higher education and research emerged throughout France, under the impetus of the Ministry for Higher Education and Research and in line with the European Smart Specialisation Strategy (SSS). Working together and using different methods, these establishments built up communities which sometimes even involved mergers between local entities. With operators in research and innovation, they defined their training, research and innovation policies in the context of Initiatives of Excellence (IdEx), presaging major research universities or Science – Innovation – Territories – Economy Initiatives (I-SITE) that could offer the same level of scientific excellence on particular themes. For INRA, which is the most decentralised research institution in France, this context constitutes an important opportunity. Several sites now organise a training-research-innovation continuum on issues relative to food systems, and INRA and its partners in Agreenium are wholly committed to this initiative.
There is a paradox when defining a single national strategy that must interact with the dynamics of sites that are all striving to gain greater autonomy and specialisation. A national institution is well placed to deal with this paradox, and indeed to provide each site with opportunities for links with others in the context of a broader vision. This is the global sense of INRA's regional strategy.
At each site, a national research establishment such as INRA will find:
- Research partners. More than 3/4 of INRA's research units are operated jointly with other higher education establishments. Site identifiers assure INRA's partners of the medium-term visibility of the Institute's local commitment to certain specific themes, while at the same time offering them an opportunity to acquaint themselves with the skills present elsewhere in the country and available through the Institute's national structure.
- A portal to local higher education activities to which research scientists can contribute, notably through the themes that identify the site; in return, teaching and training are aligned with these identifiers, thus ensuring their sustainability.
- A portal to international activities. Student exchanges are often the first step in the practical implementation of an international partnership. To facilitate them, INRA can offer programmes for joint PhD contracts with an international dimension. Furthermore, in order to contribute to enhancing the global visibility of all sites in which it is involved, INRA adopts the principle of a standardised signature for articles and ensuring that the site – often the local university, Joint Research Unit or not, is identified whenever possible. Finally, International Joint Research Units may procure an international reputation for local partnerships.
- A portal for innovation. Local innovation partnership networks often differ from those operated at a national level. Regions may set up tools that complement those available within INRA at a national level (INRA-Transfert, Carnot Institutes, etc.): enterprise networks, competitiveness clusters, Accelerated Technology Transfer Companies (SATT).
INRA is wholly committed to the development of site-based scientific projects, with universities that generally drive them, and with its partners in Agreenium. As a national institution, INRA does not have a mission to become involved in structural dynamics, and even more so in any mergers that would commit its local resources in contradiction with its national vocation as a Public Scientific and Technical Research Establishment (EPST), which in the short term would diminish its research capacities at each of the sites concerned.
INRA participates actively in compiling site contracts which specify its research contribution in the field of food systems. It formalises this commitment in agreements with local partners: regional government bodies, universities, etc. However, as it is already contracted with the State at a national level, its purpose is not to do so at its different sites, so it does not co-sign contracts at a site level.
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