The Regional Challenge Fund, the unique mechanism the aim of which is to improve the employability of young people and boost the competitiveness of companies across the Western Balkan 6, has been operating for close to two years. Within that time, RCF opened two Calls for Expressions of Interest that received around 330 applications across all six economies, resulting in 111 consortia invited to the second stage and 50 projects proposed for financing under the RCF.
In the interview with The Regional Coordinator for North Macedonia, Ms. Biljana Simeonova compared the successes of the two calls, shared her observations and experiences on the encountered challenges, industries that applied the most, and future expectations.
I am glad to say that this year we also had a very good response to the RCF Second Call. The applications are better structured. The Consortia have developed detailed budgets with a clear idea of what they would like to purchase for the VTI in support of the CT programmes they proposed with the project. The Consortia have more partners this year, which means the enterprises are becoming aware of the idea of cooperating with the VTIs. It is good that the private sector sees the benefits of supporting education.
Our Team worked on the application to make it more straightforward for the applicants and we received very good applications.
The applications come from different industries. We have VTIs that propose CT programmes for professions in automotive industry, agriculture, mechanical engineering and metalworking, electrical engineering, textile and health. Schools share the information about the RCF with other schools, hence we have applicants that, encouraged by grantees from the First Call, have applied now in this Second Call. The RCF provides this great opportunity where both the VTIs and their partnering enterprises benefit from the support. Enterprises from all industries are partnering with schools and developing projects.
During the Info sessions and Tutorials we see that we share all the information considered important for preparing the Expression of Interest and the Full Application Forms. Of course, we are available for questions and interested applicants can approach us or write at the emails we communicate at the end of each event. The Team receives different kinds of questions. Some regarding administrative issues, where to obtain certain documents. Last year many were asking about the investments, what costs are eligible and what can they as Consortia present as Matching contribution. For this Second call, we received less questions regarding costs eligibility, probably because the Team prepared a really comprehensible Budget Table template with direct instruction that are easy to follow. Of course, when the deadline for submission is fast approaching, we receive emails asking for extension of the deadlines. The Team strongly advises the applicants to not wait until the last moment for submission of the applications. Since the whole process is done online, we would like to be able to provide support if they face any difficulties.
This year we also prepared the Second Call Guidelines, a document that was translated into all 6 languages, so besides the sessions and tutorials, and the RCF website, the applicants received the Guidelines containing detailed information.
I expect a steady number of applications. Interested schools are even now contacting us with inquiries about the upcoming call, they don’t want to miss the date.