Academic mobility principle 'ignored' by some EU states

Members' failure to advertise community-wide is unfair to British scholars, writes Hannah Fearn

June 25, 2009

European universities have been accused of failing to encourage freedom of movement for academics, resulting in an unfair system in which British scholars lose out.

William Gallois, reader in history at Roehampton University, approached members of the European Parliament and asked them to take up the issue after becoming frustrated by the opaque European job market and the impact it was having on the careers of his peers.

He said that while British universities had a "cosmopolitan system" which had resulted in institutions becoming a melting pot of nationalities - one of the key aims of the Bologna Process - universities in France, Spain and Italy were not keeping their side of the bargain.

"They're not applying the rules as they exist about freedom of movement. The reality is that the number of non-nationals employed by those institutions is tiny," he said.

"They have failed to sort out this problem. Britain is actually unique within the EU in having a really transparent recruitment market."

Dr Gallois persuaded Conservative MEP Charles Tannock to submit a written question to the European Commission on freedom of movement for academics.

It asked whether it was legal for European universities to not advertise vacant posts widely - and so hinder academics from other EU countries from applying - and whether there were any plans to introduce compulsory EU-wide advertising.

Dr Gallois was unhappy with the response he received, which listed the initiatives in place to encourage greater access to academic roles across Europe and concluded that universities were not obliged to publish details of posts widely.

It added: "The Commission considers that the member states authorities are free to organise their public sector (including the public teaching sector), and in particular their own recruitment policies, as they wish, as long as they do not breach the rules on free movement of workers."

Dr Gallois said the Commission's response gave the impression that the issue was "just not going to be addressed".

"The Commission simply says we have all the things in place to encourage mobility in the EU. Its approach is that it's deploying these measures which in the long run will encourage greater movement across borders.

"There is an element of simple unfairness ... there simply aren't transparent job markets in a wide range of European countries. It turns out Britain is much more European than elsewhere in the EU."

The original Bologna Declaration, signed a decade ago, committed European countries not only to the promotion of mobility of academics around European universities, but also the mobility of students.

However, a survey carried out by the European Student Union earlier this year found many universities were also failing on this front.

In particular, the union censured institutions for not introducing a coherent system of academic credits that would enable students to build up to a final degree award at a number of European universities.

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