Innovation policy: Still room for improvement

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From the VDMA's point of view, the annual report of the Expert Commission on Research and Innovation (EFI) clearly shows that there is still room for improvement in terms of open-topic and broadly effective funding instruments.

"More investment in thematically open and broadly effective funding instruments and a digital pact for education worthy of the name belong at the top of the innovation policy list of duties," emphasised Hartmut Rauen, Deputy Managing Director of the VDMA, with regard to the new annual report of the Expert Commission on Research and Innovation (EFI).

"There is still room for improvement here in the new term." For example, Germany has unique innovation networks of industry and science in the form of collaborative industrial research. "Such bottom-up approaches, which address the entire ecosystem, belong even more in the focus of innovation policy," said Rauen. The same applies to R&D tax incentives, which enables all companies to shape the solution space for innovation themselves, he said. "In contrast, funding policy beacons all too often blink into economic nothingness."

No funding without transfer and networking
"We have to bring together the best minds from industry and science, even beyond funded individual projects, and leverage synergies for our value-added network. Otherwise, only too few will benefit from the funding," Rauen emphasised. "The guiding principle in future must be: without transfer and networking, no funding award for project clusters."

"We have to bring together the best minds from industry and science, even beyond funded individual projects, and leverage synergies for our value-added network."

The digital transformation in mechanical and plant engineering can only be mastered through good and modern education and training. "We need a digital pact for education that particularly strengthens the vocational schools and includes the universities as well as the providers of further education and training," said Rauen. "A pact for schools alone is not enough." All educational institutions need a viable digital infrastructure and well-trained teachers. "The gap between entrepreneurial practice and educational reality must be closed."
The VDMA is developing many initiatives in this regard, ranging from training and further education programmes offered by the foundation for young mechanical engineers to engineering training for Industry 4.0.

Investments in the future at a high level
According to the VDMA's ninth Corona Flash Survey on the economic impact of the Corona pandemic, 57 percent of the companies expect their investments in research and development this year to be at a similar level as in 2020. Almost one in three companies (31 percent) even anticipate significantly higher investments (at least +5 percent) and only 12 percent expect significantly lower investments (-5 percent or worse). The ninth Corona Flash Survey ran from 20 to 22 January 2021, with 575 companies in the machinery and equipment sector taking part.

The latest ZEW Innovation Survey projects stable innovation spending for the industry in 2021. In 2020, according to the plan, expenditure was only 4 per cent below the record level of 2019. "Mobility, energy, climate - as the number one engineering employer, mechanical engineering provides the answers," Rauen summed up. "In doing so, we are relying on an outstanding innovation space."