British scientists are still struggling to cope with the bureaucracy surrounding European research funding, the Commons science and technology committee has warned.
In the final report of its inquiry into UK science and Europe, published last week, the committee acknowledges that the UK seemed to have done better in the last Framework programme than most, if not all, other countries. But it warns that bureaucracy remains a problem, and says it is sceptical of the European Commission's commitment to reduce the amount of red tape involved in the application process.
Ian Gibson, chair of the committee, told The THES : "The complaint from scientists is that they are overwhelmed when they look at the (Framework) forms and see what information is needed. They don't always know how to access help and many just give up."
Dr Gibson stressed that the government and Research Councils UK must push harder to widen access to European funds, because there was an enduring perception that Framework funding was a closed shop.
He said: "The themes chosen are shrouded in mystery. So the fear is if you're not on the inside, you don't put in a class-A application. People feel it is hard to start off. Those who have the contacts are going to jump on it all."
The report also raises concerns about the lack of funding for basic research. There is a special fund for new and emerging science and technology, but it is set at E215 million (£152 million) - just over 1 per cent of the total Framework 6 Programme budget. The committee says this is not enough to redress the balance. Dr Gibson said: "Areas like stem cells have great potential, but much basic research needs to be done before we start on the applied stuff. There is still an overemphasis on applied research and spin-offs."
The European Commission told the committee during its trip to Brussels that proposals for a new European Research Council had stemmed from this absence of fundamental research in the Framework programmes. But the report dismisses this as a solution, saying instead that the next Framework programme should have a goal of devoting half of its funding to basic research.
Neither the government nor RCUK has yet made any definite statement on the idea of the European Research Council. The committee condemns this "backseat" approach, and urges the government to steer the process so that it benefits Britain.