UK universities could be forced to adhere to the European Commission's Charter for Researchers and Code of Conduct for the Recruitment of Researchers under Commission plans to introduce "enforceable mechanisms".
A representative of the directorate general for research, which sets the Commission's research policies, told European postdoctoral students at last week's Eurodoc conference that it is considering forcing countries to comply because they had been too slow to implement the measures set out in the charter and code. The Commission plans to issue a green paper on the European Research Area, which will include the plans.
Raffaele Liberali, a director in DG Research, said last June that the texts were just a framework of general principles.
Janet Metcalfe, director of the UK Grad programme, said: "The Commission is concerned that the charter and code have not been adopted as fast as they should have been.
"Most countries don't approve of enforceable mechanisms. The green paper is only a discussion paper but the fact that the issue is still being raised when Liberali said it would always remain voluntary is worrying."
The Commission adopted the charter and code in 2005. The documents aim to improve recruitment, make selection procedures fairer and address the roles, responsibilities and entitlements of researchers and their employers or funding organisations.
Simon Felton, general secretary of the National Postgraduate Committee, said: "The NPC would encourage moves towards parts being compulsory to ensure fairer support for postgraduates and early-stage researchers."
Any assessment against criteria would need to recognise the variety of methods of application, he said.