Brussels, 25 Nov 2003
As well as recognising European excellence in collaborative research, the awards ceremony of the 2003 Descartes Prize in Rome on 20 November gave policy makers and scientists the chance to discuss an issue considered vital to Europe's competitiveness: the mobility of researchers.
The Commission estimates that 700,000 additional researchers are needed in order for the EU to achieve its goal of raising research investment to three per cent of GDP by 2010. In this context, enhancing the European dimension of research careers is seen as a way of creating job opportunities, increasing competition, and improving pay and working conditions.
Increasing the mobility of researchers within Europe will also help to meet some of the major challenges facing the research sector, according to Jimmy Jamar from the Commission's Research DG. He highlighted the so called 'brain drain' of EU researchers to other parts of the world, notably the US, as an example. Attracting non EU researchers to take up positions within Europe is the other side of the same coin, he suggested.
'One thing is certain: we cannot answer the brain drain issue with an action plan. Researchers go wherever the best opportunities are to be found, and we have to come up with an integrated strategy to resolve this issue,' said Mr Jamar.
While the EU should encourage its scientists to go abroad to improve their careers, a mechanism designed to attract them back to Europe should be in place, added Mr Jamar. He also indicated that the Commission is planning to produce a new directive aimed improving entry conditions for non-EU researchers.
Sieglinde Grube, also representing DG Research, said that the adoption by the Council of a resolution on the career of researchers in the European Research Area (ERA) had given the EU a clear mandate for action. Initiatives will be undertaken in four key areas: training of researchers, recruitment methods, contracts, and evaluation mechanisms. The Commission also plans to launch the European year of researchers in 2005, Ms Grube added.
Dr Gian Mario Maggio, an Italian researcher based at the University of California, said that, in his experience, one of the great strengths of the US research sector was its ability to attract talent from developing countries. 'Europe struggles in this regard, and we should ask ourselves 'is Europe open enough to appeal to foreign researchers?''
Dr Maggio cited the high quality of public and private research, the relative lack of bureaucracy, and a better approach to gender issues as key reasons for the pre-eminence of the United States in attracting global talent.
When asked for his opinion on the subject of brain drain, 2003 Descartes Prize winner Professor Richard Friend was clear: 'There is a free market out there, and it's called the US. The only way to reverse the situation is to make jobs in Europe as attractive as in other parts of the world.'
Portugal's former Minister for Science and Technology, José Mariano Gago, concluded by offering a strategy that builds on Europe's existing strengths: 'In certain scientific areas, such as nuclear research at CERN [the European Nuclear Research Organisation], Europe has a net brain gain in relation to the US, and there is no reason not to achieve this in other areas.'
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