EU seeks more research links

December 1, 2000

Europe's multibillion pound research programme is to be revamped to encourage greater collaboration among universities, research institutes and industry.

The European Commission's research council met recently to consider how the next phase of the "Framework" programme can be geared to help create a "European research area" initiative, under which research projects will be networked across European Union member states.

The commission has proposed that the programme should "focus on areas where community action can provide the greatest possible European added value, in comparison to national action", with resources channelled into bigger projects of longer duration.

The initiative could prove unpopular among British vice-chancellors, who have already complained that funding is being top-sliced from Britain's science budget to contribute to Framework.

Sir Howard Newby, vice-chancellor of Southampton University and president of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, said there was a danger that science was being used as a vehicle for European integration, rather than funding research projects according to scientific merit.

It was hoped that the merger of two organisations representing heads of European universities, the European Union Rectors Conference and the Council of European Rectors, would help vice-chancellors get their views across to the commission, he said.

"The problem is that in Europe the research councils are pretty well organised, and so is industry, but the universities have been all over the place. Hopefully this new (merged) body will help," he said.

The commission wants to increase and expand mobility grants for researchers from the European Union and from developing countries. It also wants to fund projects that will "strengthen the social dimension of science", such as studies that focus on ethics, public awareness of science and on encouraging an interest in science among young people.

Possible EU-wide research priorities include "post-genome" research, major illnesses, nanotechnology, the information society and space sector research.

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