Europe advised to delay research council

January 16, 2004

Europe must put the brakes on plans for a European research council until better information is available about research in member countries, a Royal Society working group argued this week, writes Anna Fazackerley.

Less than a month after an international expert group reported to the European Council of Ministers that a joint European research council should be set up in the next three years, the Royal Society has published a paper insisting that the case for the new funding body has not yet been made.

Julia Higgins, the vice-president of the Royal Society, told The THES :

"Different groups of people all have different expectations of what a European research council will deliver. I think we need to think very, very carefully about what we're doing and what it's for and look at the funding very carefully."

In particular, the society has questioned the assumption that the new council would help Europe achieve its target to increase overall spending on research from 1.9 per cent of its gross domestic product to 3 per cent by 2010.

The aim of the target is to bring Europe more in line with US spending on research. But the society's paper points out that 90 per cent of the gap between Europe and the US is due to differences in the amount spent by businesses on science.

It argues that creating a new council providing an additional focus on public, rather than business, research funding is missing the point.

Professor Higgins said: "We need to do more on the business side." But she added: "I wish I knew what we should do."

The paper also notes that it is impossible to reach clear conclusions about the European situation because it is so hard to find consistent and detailed information about research activity in different countries and institutions.

It says: "Without a significant improvement in the information available across the EU, central policy at best will be difficult to develop and at worst the decisions taken may be counterproductive."

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