Brussels, 22 Jul 2003
If the European Commission needed any reassurance that it is going in the right direction with regard to its communication on 'researchers in the European Research Area: one profession, multiple careers', adopted on 18 July, the conclusions of a conference on the same issue, held in Florence, Italy on 17 and 18 July, will have been very welcome.
'Many of the [conference] conclusions are in line, indeed virtually identical to what we envisaged in the communication,' said Raffaele Liberali, Director of 'the human factor, mobility and Marie Curie actions' within the Commission's Research DG.
Both the communication and the conference were foreseen because of the belief that the way in which research careers are structured in Europe does not allow the continent to fully exploit its research potential. The fundamental issues are the need for more researchers and increased mobility, both between countries and between academia and industry. Barriers to mobility limit the career options available to researchers and thus make the profession appear less attractive.
Proposed in the Commission communication are actions addressing four areas, explained Achilleas Mitsos, Director General of the Research DG: researcher training and funding; recruitment procedures; the contractual dimension; and evaluation mechanisms.
Concrete proposals include the establishment of a high level group charged with identifying examples of good practice in terms of employment opportunities, such as intersectoral mobility; the development of a 'European researcher's charter', a framework for the career management of human resources in research based on voluntary regulation; and the outlining of a 'code of conduct for the recruitment of researchers' to improve recruitment methods.
Chair of the Commission's external advisory group for Marie Curie actions, Alexandre Quintanilha, declared that mobility, both geographic and between disciplines, is crucial for the concept of a knowledge-based society to be realised. This was a point echoed by Mr Liberali, who lamented the passive attitude of many towards the problem: 'We can all agree that we've got to change the situation, but no-one manages to go to the hearth of the problem and to solve it. I'm not always sure that academia and industry want to work together beyond the level of soft concerns.
Christian Siegler from Eurodoc also addressed the gap between academia and industry, saying that 'the sectors must become able to accept each other as they are. Five years in industry should be recognised as equal to five years in academia.'
Mobility between countries also needs to be increased, agreed conference participants. Many spoke of the need not to talk of brain drain, but of brain mobility. UK universities are most advanced in terms of attracting students from abroad. 'UK departments are amongst the most European in Europe,' said Yves Mény, Director of the European University Institute. 'Other nationalities are present far more than in other countries[' universities],' he explained. 'We should have a look at what's happening on the other side of the channel.'
Referring to the recurring debate on whether it is necessary to produce an additional 700,000 researchers by 2010 in order to increase research spending to three per cent of GDP in Europe, as suggested by the Commission, Dr Mitsos called for less talk and more action: 'I am also an academic and like the idea of completing the picture before proposing something, but we urgently need researchers. We need to do something now.'
This sentiment was also conveyed by Conor O'Carroll from the 'conference of heads of Irish universities'. Dr O'Carroll referred to the target as a catalyst, 'not just a numerical objective', and added, 'I don't care how many we need - it's a large number.'
Dr Mitsos called on the scientific community and Member State governments to work together in order to address the problem. The communication 'proposes a series of ways to launch a structured debate,' explained Dr Mitsos. Decisions cannot be made in Brussels and applied elsewhere.
An appeal for the involvement of scientists was also made by Dr Liberali: 'We should use the curiosity of scientists to come up with the answers to these problems,' he said. To see the Commission communication, please click here