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Science for the world

Higher Education Minister Morten Østergaard's speech at the opening of the conference 'Science in Dialogue" in Odense 23 April.

Distinguished guests. Friends of science. It is a pleasure to be here today.

This is an important conference. The global challenges call for a dialogue between researchers, stakeholders and society. And I believe this dialogue has never been more valuable and more necessary than it is today.

We cannot meet the challenges without working together.

This conference indicates a paradigm shift: that we are no longer talking about the best science in the world – but rather the best science for the world.

Still science has to be excellent to be usable. That goes for both basic research and strategic research. Never compromise on quality.
Solutions need to have the highest quality.

Excellent science is the foundation of tomorrow's technologies, jobs and wellbeing.

Researchers and responsibility

Jens Oddershede just shortly mentioned the Danish Festival of Research – allow me to say a few words more about this special event.

The Danish Festival of Research saw more than 600 research-based activities take place all over the country last week. The aim is to create awareness and awaken interest in research among the Danish people. And to create understanding of the meaning that research has for society.

I attended the official opening which also saw a competition among some of the most talented young researchers. A competition which also engaged the audience. 10 PhD students from across the country competed to see who could communicate their research the best.
And they had just three minutes to get their research across to the audience. More specifically to a group of students from the secondary education who voted for the best presentation.

It was a fantastic experience and a tour de force in creative communication. Furthermore, it was interesting to see that many of the young researchers were already in dialogue with society and tackling some of the great challenges we face.

  • One was researching how better business models can help developing countries by bridging the gap between aid and innovation.
  • Another was studying methods of chemical profile analysis of illegal drugs which could help police investigators fight against drug trafficking.
  • And a young researcher here from this University was examining gene therapy treatment for cancer.

It was a very positive and affirmative experience. Because it showed the burning curiosity of young researchers. And their thirst for and pursuit of knowledge. But also because it revealed that young researchers are ready to tackle great societal challenges. It showed that researchers have a responsibility. And it displayed science in dialogue.

Benefits of a closer dialogue

But it all starts with education.

Not long ago more than 300 students gathered on their own initiative on Copenhagen Business School. They wanted to discuss social innovation since they felt it was not included in their curriculum. And DANSIC12 – the name of the initiative – was a success and a good example on how students and young scientists take responsibility for science in dialogue.

There are many benefits of getting researchers and other stakeholders – policy makers, civil society organisations, industry, schools, and media – to engage in a closer dialogue:

  • We are likely to see more creative and effective innovative results by working together with stakeholders. Different perspectives will bring different and sometimes better solutions.
  • Furthermore by creating closer ties between decision makers, scientists and interest groups, we could solve the societal challenges and make our society better.

Researchers have a responsibility to open up and to bring their knowledge forward – and should also be given the opportunity.

Therefore for instance I find it very constructive and positive with the new Proof of Concept in the European Research Council. Here ERC grant holders can apply for additional funding to establish the innovation potential of ideas arising from their ERC-funded research projects.

The responsibility to create a true dialogue between science, innovation and the rest of society is a shared responsibility. And will result in common benefit for society.

As Minister for Science – relevance and excellence in research is a precondition when negotiating the overall budget in the parliament.

And science and research is of course not the only punch ball in the budget battle. Funds for science are up against other proposals and priorities in the political boxing ring. But for me of course, science is one of the heavyweights – precisely by being excellent and relevant for society. And therefore it is also for the support of science that we need close dialogue with the tax payers who fund it.

Horizon 2020

Excellent science, industrial leadership and societal challenges are the three pillars of Horizon 2020.

Instead of focusing on scientific disciplines, the next European funding programme for research and innovation will focus on the great challenges to the European societies.

This challenge-based approach emphasises two things:

  • That research and innovation have a key role to play in providing intelligent answers to the great challenges.
  • And that society's concerns should be of pivotal importance to research and innovation.

Scientific answers and input to the great challenges are necessary: without the creation of new knowledge, society cannot evolve and adapt.

To respond to the great challenges you need interdisciplinary research and a new relation between science and society. And I can assure you that there is political will to build bridges between science and society.

The suggestions produced at this conference will be an important input to the EU presidency and the European Commission.

Horizon 2020 is a very coherent programme; from basic research to societal challenges to innovation and leadership. The programme will make a difference for European citizens.

And the Danish Presidency will do its utmost to progress the negotiations and aims to reach a partial general approach on the overall structure of Horizon 2020 at the Competitiveness Council at the end of May.

Questions for debate

Science and innovation can not only provide us with answers but also with many questions that we need to ask ourselves, such as:

  • How can we make sure that society's concerns are reflected in the way that research and innovation is carried out?
  • How can politicians make sure to engage and consult the right stakeholders when they prioritise future programmes for research and innovation?
  • How can we create productive connections between science and decision makers at local, national and European level?
  • How do we create interest in scientific issues among the general public, not least young people?

I will not pretend to have the answers to these questions, but this conference will seek to provide valuable and much needed input to them. I also look forward to seeing your ideas for creating closer ties between science and society. And how they could be reflected in the way that we as politicians construct funding programmes.

Research and responsibility

I hope this conference will serve as a platform to create networks and to exchange good practices and useful experiences on science in dialogue.

I would like to thank the University of Southern Denmark for hosting this conference. The Danish think-tank DEA for providing valuable
input to the conference. The European Commission for supporting the conference. And of course all the highly qualified speakers.

I look forward to seeing the fruit of your endeavours in the coming days.

I mentioned the Danish Festival of Research in the beginning as a good example of creating understanding of the significance research plays in society. The young researchers demonstrated both responsibility and science in dialogue. And both are sorely needed.

The global challenges and the current financial crisis in Europe could be a take-off to a stronger dialogue between science and society.

I have no doubt that societal challenges can only be tackled effectively if societal interests are included in research and innovation processes.

We need relevant and excellent research and innovation. And it must be based on the principle of responsibility.

It is the responsibility of scientist to position their research for the betterment of society and to help meet the global challenges of our time. So let's not only talk about the best science in the world – but rather the best science for the world.

Thank you.

last modified Feb 10, 2013