EESC Opinion: Admission of third-country nationals to carry out scientific research in the European Community (link)

November 4, 2004

Brussels, October 2004

OPINION of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Proposal for a Council Directive on a specific procedure for admitting third-country nationals for purposes of scientific research. Proposal for a Council Recommendation to facilitate the admission of third-country nationals to carry out scientific research in the European Community. Proposal for a Council Recommendation to facilitate the issue by the Member States of uniform short-stay visas for researchers from third countries travelling within the European Community for the purpose of carrying out scientific research ( COM(2004) 178 final - 2004/0061 (CNS))
Full text of Opinion in MS Word file on ESC website

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General comments

The EESC welcomes this Communication on the admission of third-country nationals to carry out scientific research in the European Community.

As the Commission's target of 700,000 extra researchers by 2010 will mainly involve EU nationals, the EESC wants to refer the Commission to its earlier Opinion in response to the Commission's communication on the problems facing career researchers on the European Research Area and the proposals and initiatives to address these.

With regard to the interlocking measures "to make science attractive to young people at school", this opinion highlights that the importance of science is insufficiently reflected in the school curricula and recommends that greater weight be given to the teaching of science, technology and mathematics in schools and stresses the importance of presenting these subjects in an attractive way to students. It is also important to target girls as they tend to be under-represented in these subject areas. There is considerable evidence to indicate that those seeking entry to higher education are now doing so in non-scientific subjects so that ability of the Community to achieve a high number of researchers is going to be undermined without urgent and detailed consideration.

For the second interlocking measure "to improve the career prospects for researchers in the European Union" this earlier opinion discusses the dilemma facing researchers working in academia or publicly funded research institutions who are usually paid in accordance with public-sector pay scales but with no job security or other benefits given to other public sector careers such as civil servants or teachers. In fact researchers face little or no job security as they are often given a series of temporary contracts, following every change of job or career move.

The final reference to the earlier opinion the EESC wants to make is about the mobility of European researchers. The EESC recognises that a career in Research in the European Area necessitates mobility and flexibility within the EU. However this should not be at the expense of personal and family living conditions and social benefits. In addition, the Commission needs to act against a possible one-way brain drain, with the best young researchers leaving the EU, especially for the USA. Current problems relating to the obtaining of visas in the USA are likely to be of short-term nature and higher education groups in the USA are already mounting pressure on the USA Government to speed up entry requirements so that they can recruit more non-USA nationals.

Returning to the current Commission's communication on the admission of third-country nationals to carry out scientific research in the European Community, the Committee agrees that removing the obstacles to the mobility of third-country researchers is vital if the European Union is to become more attractive to researchers throughout the world especially if it is to compete successfully against global competition for those researchers of the highest ability.

The Committee agrees with the Commission's statement that the globalisation of the economy, which is more and more knowledge-based, is constantly increasing the international dimension of science. However, the EESC feels that globalisation should have been made more explicit in the Communication by including comparative data on the level of resources which countries like Japan and the USA allocate to support the training, mobility and career development of researchers.

The EESC is also very concerned about the age structure of the existing researchers in the EU. Many persons in this category are now reaching possible retirement age with few new entrants being sufficiently attracted or encouraged to replace them. Without recognition of this fact and action taken urgently the EU's target will not be met. This is also the result of the current situation in Europe where the population is ageing and the birth rate is reducing. Also in a number of EU states the population is projected to begin to decline after 2010. This makes the target of 700,000 extra researchers by 2010 a very ambitious one even with a top-up of researchers from third countries.

The EESC does understand that this communication focuses solely on admissions and therefore researchers from third countries who are already in the European Union, some of which are leaders in their field, will not come under the proposed directive and recommendations. However, it suggests that a future directive is needed to address the specific problem of access of this group to highly qualified jobs as this would help with reaching the target of 700,000 extra researchers. Some of these researchers have refugee status in the EU and their talents and contribution are sadly under-utilised at present. There is no systematic provision to help such researchers in the EU other than by grants given by voluntary or charitable bodies. If modest funding is provided to support such persons it is likely that the number of researchers in the EU will increase by at least 40,000. The Committee therefore strongly recommends that the Commission set up a process so that these researchers can be identified and considered as researchers and have easier access to research jobs.

The Committee notes the definition of researcher provided by the Commission. Again it wants to refer to the definition recommended in its earlier opinion 305/2004, point 5.1.1.7: -Experts engaged in the conception or creation of new knowledge, products, processes, methods and systems, and in the management of the projects concerned, for which they are qualified by virtue of their training and experience-. This definition has the advantage of recognising any management skills that the researcher has.

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European Economic and Social Committee

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