Commission raises profile of researchers to stop the brain drain

March 25, 2003

Brussels, 24 March 2003

In order to achieve the objective of raising Europe's investment in research to 3% of gross domestic product (GDP), as decided at the Barcelona European Council meeting in March 2002, the EU will need 500 000 extra researchers. Measures to achieve this objective were presented at a conference held on 24 March at the instigation of Philippe Busquin, the European Research Commissioner, dedicated to the future of human resources in research. There are signs that the profession of researcher is not properly appreciated by the general public, so the Commission has decided, under the 6th Research Framework Programme for 2002-2006, to earmark 1.58 billion euros, or nearly 10% of the overall budget, for the training, mobility and career development of researchers. In June 2003, the Commission will submit a communication on the career of researchers, followed in the autumn by the launching of a European mobility portal and a network of assistance centres for mobility.

"More and more researchers trained in Europe leave for and remain in the USA. These considerable losses in terms of human resources are a drain on European research resources", said European Commissioner Philippe Busquin. "They reflect the lack of attractiveness and social recognition characteristic in Europe of the profession of researcher. To achieve the EU's objectives for this decade there is an urgent need to upgrade this profession and the conditions under which research is conducted. The European Research Area will not really see the light of day until it is also a European area for researchers".

An increasingly large divide

In relative terms the EU produces more science graduates (PhDs) than the United States but has fewer researchers (5.36 per thousand of the working population in the EU compared with 8.66 in the USA and 9.72 in Japan). The proportion of women researchers is only 29% of the total in Europe, falling as low as 11% where the number of full-time teachers is concerned.

These figures should be compared with the results of a Eurobarometer survey (1) , which indicates a lack of interest among young people for science, although the figures do vary from country to country and from discipline to discipline: 67.3% of the young people questioned consider that science lessons are not sufficiently attractive, 53.4% think that young people are less interested in scientific subjects, and 42.4% think that the career prospects are insufficient and 40% believe that the salaries are not sufficiently attractive.

Converging measures

In order to achieve the Lisbon objectives, and make the EU the most dynamic and most competitive knowledge-based economy in the world by 2010, the Commission has put in place a series of converging measures are aimed at increasing the opportunities with regard to training, mobility and career development for researchers; raising their profile in society; getting researchers and universities more involved in the knowledge-based society and economy; consolidating the links between academia and industry; and lastly implementing measures targeted on the wider public in order to improve the image of researchers within society and attract more young people to scientific careers.

Rewarding excellence

The programmes funded by the Commission (Marie Curie scheme) place the emphasis on the initial training of researchers starting their careers, either through transnational research projects or through better structured training in a more university-oriented environment. Another initiative concerns individual grants to meet the additional training needs of researchers who already have professional experience.

There are also other measures concerning the transfer of knowledge to the EU's less-favoured regions and the candidate countries, in both the academic sector and industry. Lastly, an important innovation concerns the instruments designed to encourage the creation of research teams, establish university chairs and promote the return of researchers and their professional integration, as well as the opening up of all the instruments available to researchers from third countries.

Information and assistance services

In support of these actions, in 2003 the Commission, in cooperation with the Member States and the associated countries, will launch a European portal for the mobility of researchers and a European network of mobility centres. These two initiatives, which are part of the implementation of the Communication on a mobility strategy for the European Research Area (2) are intended to provide exhaustive information and local assistance for researchers involved in mobility with regard to any question concerning establishing themselves and staying in their host country.

An urgent debate

The conference will provide an opportunity to take stock of the current situation regarding researchers in Europe, stressing two major challenges. The first concerns the role of universities in the knowledge-based economy following the Communication adopted on this subject in February 2003 at the instigation of Philippe Busquin and Viviane Reding, the European Commissioners responsible for research and education. The second concerns raising the profile of the profession of researcher and improving the profile of researchers in society.

With this in mind, in June 2003 the Commission will be submitting a Communication on the career of researchers which will cover a wide variety of topics, such as a genuine employment market for researchers in Europe; better coordination of national recruitment, assessment and career development systems; and greater recognition for qualifications and professional experience at European level.

Increasing the attractiveness of science among young people

This specific dimension was the subject of a Commission Action Plan in 2002 (3) . One of its aims is to promote better communication of the results of research among the wider public and propose a more citizen-friendly science policy

For further information, please visit the following website:
(1) Europeans, Science and Technology, December 2001.
(2) COM(2001) 331 final of 20 June 2001.
(3) Science and Society Action Plan.

DN: IP/03/426 Date: 24/03/2003

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