A hard line from 'soft' scientists

January 13, 2006

Social scientists believe that they are being short-changed by proposals for the European Union's seventh framework research programme (FP7) for 2007-13, which is being reshaped after last month's budget agreement, writes Heide Newson in Brussels.

They believe that they have a key role to play if Europe is to meet the goals set out by the Lisbon Process, which aims to transform the region into the world's most dynamic knowledge-based economy.

Maria João Rodrigues, the European Commission's special adviser on socioeconomic sciences, said at a conference in Brussels last month: "It's a big illusion to think that technical problems can be solved only by technology. The situation will be ridiculous if there are any more cuts [to the proposed FP7]."

EU spending on research and development is falling behind target and many delegates at the two-day conference were unconvinced that the pledge made three years ago to devote 3 per cent of gross domestic product to research and development by 2010 would be met.

The Commission's original seven-year programme earmarked €792 million (£545 million) for social sciences and humanities out of total funding of €73 billion, prompting fears that humanities and social science would be overlooked in the drive for technological development.

Many of the 360 delegates at the conference expressed irritation and concern that the proposed percentage share for social sciences and humanities was set at only 1.08 per cent over the seven-year period, compared with 1.3 per cent under the sixth framework programme.

"It should be 2 per cent and the money ought to be ring-fenced against any future cuts on the level of EU spending," Professor Rodrigues said.

Gordon Marshall, vice-chancellor of Reading University, warned delegates that funding social science and humanities from the "loose change of the framework programme" would lead to "fragmented" results.

EU research commissioner Janez Potocnik ruffled feathers when he referred to the "soft" disciplines working with "hard" science and spreading to new areas such as health and environment.

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