Brussels, 12 Jan 2005
The next framework programme must focus on curiosity-driven research to attract young people to scientific careers and develop Europe's innovation potential in the long run, says Astrid Bårdgard, senior EU Advisor at the University of Bergen, Norway.
Speaking at an ERRIN (European Regions Research and Innovation Network) briefing session on 'the scientific debate on basic research in Europe, Dr Bårdgard also called for increased funding for cross-disciplinary research and new legislation to promote entrepreneurship and investment in knowledge-intensive business development.
'The Lisbon strategy and the Barcelona target will be hard to achieve unless more funding is allocated to basic research, more focus is given to education and to attracting young people to take on a research career in Europe, and unless effective mechanisms for utilisation of knowledge are developed,' explained Dr Bårdgard.
According to Dr Bårdgard, current European mechanisms for patenting, business development and take up measures are insufficient. 'High patenting costs and no grace period means that inventions often are 'sold off' to someone that can cover patent and commercialisation costs rather than being developed in Europe.' Dr Bårdgard is therefore calling for the development of solid solutions for intellectual property rights (IPR) and a community patent that covers all Europe and removes translation costs.
Dr Bårdgard then went to regret that past and current framework programmes are too focused on market-oriented research and on research supporting policy development in the shorter term. Yet, she believes, the large interest in bottom-up research in the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) proves that European universities and research institutions are ready for a high quality transnational and coherent effort in basic research, which would also include the training of young researchers.
Turning to the subject of the European Research Council (ERC), Dr Bårdgard explained she believes such a body would be a step in the right direction for increasing Europe's capacity and excellence in fundamental research.
'Such a council should aim for programme areas without detailed predefined scientific priorities. That means allowing for a bottom up approach on suggested research themes covering the whole range of scientific disciplines, which also funds innovative, interdisciplinary research in emerging fields of science,' believes Dr Bårdgard.
Furthermore, the ERC should aim for a high degree of transnational projects in order to promote the European Research Area (ERA) by providing sufficient critical mass to reveal new knowledge resulting from a cross-over of disciplines.
'If the ERC is too much focused on the funding of single research groups, this will to a large extent counteract the present collaborative research climate, which is now developing in Europe. We believe that this will not benefit innovation in less favoured regions in the EU, nor in the new Member States on the long term. A major part of the research funding is then likely to be concentrated on already very strong groups, for instance in Germany, France and the UK. So will be the Intellectual Property Rights and the potential for industrial innovation. We therefore recommend a balance between competition and collaboration,' added Dr Bårdgard.
'A range of smaller scale easy manageable research activities should be aimed for. The suggested projects and networks should be free to adapt to the critical mass, size and time for the scientific field in question rather than being adapted to types of networks and projects,' stated Dr Bårdgard.
According to Dr Bårdgard, there are many challenges to overcome in order to make the ERC a success. These include: smooth and simplified proposal; negotiation and reporting procedures; transparency in the selection process; and sufficient funding to avoid heavy oversubscription.
Furthermore, added Dr Bårdgard,: 'mechanisms should be developed to facilitate interaction between the ERC and the other axis of FP7. Easy access to information about funded projects will be important for creating links to more applied research approaches in the other axis. Most important will be the mutual interaction with the human resources and research infrastructure activities. The Commission could here play a central role in creating synergies and clusters. The optimal situation would be to incorporate PhD-education, research training and mobility as an integral part of both the ERC axis and the collaborative research axis in order get a holistic action in place for developing the research capacity in Europe.'
'Universities play an important role in the education and training of researchers and in the development of disciplines. Heavy engagement by universities throughout Europe, and networking with other research institutions, will be vital in order to make the ERC a successful tool for reaching the Lisbon goals,' she concluded.