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Spain and Lithuania get their first EU Covid recovery money

Countries’ governments plan to invest in universities, merge institutions and change academic funding systems

Spain and Lithuania have received their first payments from the EU’s €750 billion pandemic recovery fund—of €9bn and €289 million respectively.

The governments of both countries intend to use part of their share of the fund to invest in and reform research, innovation and education, as set out in national plans approved by the European Commission and Council of the EU in recent weeks.

The initial payments, made on 17 August, are for 13 per cent of each country’s full share of the fund, which was allocated according to factors including countries’ population, GDP and economic hit from the pandemic. The rest of the money will be paid out if and when the countries hit milestones in their agreed plans.

Spanish plan

Spain plans to spend €3.5bn of its full share—€69.5bn—on science, technology and innovation and €1.6bn on education, according to a Commission analysis. Of the latter, €383m will go on teacher training “to attract and retain talent in Spanish universities”, the Commission said.

These investments are accompanied by plans to “modernise” the financing and governance of universities and public research institutes. Several public research organisations will be merged and the granting of university status will be linked to new qualitative criteria.

Other changes for universities include reorganising courses to adapt them to “today’s society and to technological transformation” and making more institutional funding based on performance.

In more general terms, Spain’s public research and innovation system needs “flexible and modern governance models that strengthen the links with the private sector”, the Commission said.

Lithuanian plan

Just over €200m (9 per cent) of Lithuania’s total share—€2.2bn—will go on higher education and innovation, according to the Commission. Like in Spain, there are major reforms attached.

Lithuania’s “large number” of innovation agencies will be merged into a single body, the Commission said, as the current “plethora” of innovation schemes “makes the entire research and innovation support system difficult to access and use”.

The funding model for universities will be geared towards a “contract-based system”, which the Commission said will promote research and internationalisation. Another goal of funding changes is to fix the “mismatch” between current university qualifications and the labour market.

Seven countries have now received their initial payments from the fund.