Universities could lose up to a quarter of European Union research funding if they fail to comply with new rules designed to promote fair recruitment, a Brussels official has warned.
Under the six-year €80 billion (£58.5 billion) Horizon 2020 settlement agreed in May, UK universities are expected to receive roughly £2 billion in EU funding over the next two years.
But institutions could see large amounts of money clawed back by the EU if they do not adhere to new conditions attached to Horizon 2020 funding, said Irmela Brach, policy officer at the European Commission’s directorate-general for research and innovation.
Speaking at the Vitae Researcher Development International Conference in Manchester, which took place from 8 to 9 September, Dr Brach said that breaches of the new framework’s article 32 – designed to stamp out sexism, nepotism, localism and cronyism when hiring researchers – could lead to severe financial penalties for those who have won European Research Council awards.
Termination or suspension of research payments would be possible under the rules outlined in Horizon 2020, which came into effect last November, Dr Brach explained.
But the commission had specifically discussed more moderate sanctions, such as withholding between 5 per cent and 25 per cent of all ERC funds depending on the severity of the breach, she said.
Dr Brach remarked that she believed a 25 per cent fine would be “too much”, but advised universities to get to grips with the new rules.
That would in effect require universities to sign up to the commission’s Human Resources Strategy for Researchers (HRS4R), in which institutions are asked to describe policies in 40 separate areas related to research, working conditions and training.
For instance, the scheme requires institutions to introduce fair hiring practices regarding researchers paid with EU money, such as the advertising of positions widely, and not just in the local language, and the provision of clear selection criteria and a set process for potential applicants.
However, some rules may not be too onerous for UK institutions as they are broadly similar to those found in the Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers, which was signed by all UK universities and funders in 1996 and updated in 2008.