Call for overhaul of research funding to help Europe keep pace with China and India

Striving for excellence in universities to achieve a new renaissance is the only choice, says report to European Commission. Zoë Corbyn reports

October 6, 2009

The system for funding European research needs to be completely overhauled if a unified area capable of rivalling the United States and keeping pace with large emerging economies such as China and India is to be created.

A report published on 6 October by the European Research Area Board (ERAB) sets out what needs to be done to achieve a “new renaissance” in European research by 2030.

The European Commission advisory board says a series of changes are needed if quality research is to prosper in the so-called European Research Area.

“Striving for excellence [in research] is the only choice Europe has,” it says.

“Not all member states can have top 20 universities… there needs to be courage in picking the best institutes or researchers.”

Controversially, the report says that decisions on which research to fund needs to be taken out of the hands of the Commission and given to “a set of arm’s-length agencies”.

The recommendation has parallels with the system in place in the UK, where research councils decide which individual projects to support.

The ERAB report also says that half of Commission research funding should go to high-risk research, with an increased concentration in research-intensive institutions.

John Wood, chair of ERAB and a former head of a UK research council, said that under the new proposals, bids for European funding would be judged on quality above all else.

“You would just take proposals as they came in, including industry ones, and judge them on whether they were really excellent,” he said.

The current system used in Europe is highly bureaucratic, with a complex set of criteria used to allocate funds.

The report, “Preparing Europe for a New Renaissance – a Strategic View of the European Research Area”, is the first annual report to be published by ERAB.

It also argues for more money to be spent on improving researcher mobility and recommends that Europe appoints a chief scientific adviser, something the Commission has already announced it will do.

zoe.corbyn@tsleducation.com

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