Brussels, 05 Apr 2004
Members of a European High level Group (HLG) on Human Resources for Science and Technology (S&T) called for 'a little less conversation and a little more action' at a conference in Brussels on 2 April.
Presenting the conclusions of a report, representatives of the HLG warned that it is unlikely that Europe will achieve its target of recruiting an additional 500,000 more researchers by 2010 if no urgent action is taken.
Over the last few years, across most of the EU, growth in research jobs has surpassed overall employment, says the report. However, the EU is still lagging behind the US and Japan in terms of science, engineering and technology (SET) employment.
According to one of the authors of the report, Jean-Patrick Connerade, President of Eurosciences, 'It is a simple case of governments making rather empty promises about what they are going to do.'
Professor José Mariano Gago, Chairman of the HLG and former Minister for Science and Technology in Portugal, urged European governments to develop a more effective policy on human resources in science, as well as a common European strategy.
'Far from reaching the Lisbon objectives in terms of the numbers of scientists needed, Europe risks a crisis with the number of scientists sharply decreasing,' said Professor Gago.
Young people are not attracted to science for two main reasons: careers in this field are perceived as un-glamorous and badly paid, and the jobs are simply not there.
Even though it is the private sector that is the greatest employer of scientific personnel, European governments are not adequately supporting the public sector, which is not as well funded as in the US and suffers from inadequate resources, salaries and career prospects, states the report.
Edgar Jenkins from the University of Leeds in the UK said that educating people in research and development (R&D) is one thing, but that the problem is the lack of demand from the private sector. 'There is not enough industry out there to recruit,' he said.
Luciano Maiani from the University of Rome agreed, adding that training people for R&D only makes sense if governments are willing to create an economy that wants to and is able to support R&D-led growth. Furthermore, said Dr Maiani, good salaries are essential to attract intellectual capital from other countries.
Professor Jenkins suggested that academia should become industry's outer radar, and that a true partnership between the two should be encouraged with the aim of developing a European MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology).
Andrew Wyckoff from the OECD agreed, stating that 'Europe needs to create world class universities that act as a beacon for students around the world who want to study with the best and be taught by those at the forefront of the field.' Europe must draw in the best and keep the best, added Mr Wyckoff. The curricula, he said, must be more applied and less theoretical, there must be more interaction between industry and universities, more flexibility in the system and less hierarchy. A strategy that wants to create 500,000 more research posts within ten years, said Mr Wyckoff, must also attract more foreigners and more women.
The HLG also emphasised this point, stating: 'Women remain severely under-represented in many areas of scientific research and in many countries and are still not reaching the upper echelons of the research hierarchies. [However, they] remain the most obvious source for increasing human resources for science and technology in Europe.'
The HLG also recommends that the countries of southern Europe accelerate their S&T development. The report states that lowering the senior school drop out rates in many European countries could be a key policy objective for broadening the qualification pool for R&D professions: 'A common policy for human resources should integrate the economic, social and educational dimensions needed to reduce the persistently untapped human resources in Europe.'
As always, participants called for more money and more action at both national and European level. To read the report of the High Level Group on Increasing Human Resources for Science and Technology on Europe, please visit: http://europa.eu.int/comm/research/confe rences/2004/sciprof/index_en.html