Brussels, 08 Nov 2004
The European University Association (EUA) has responded to the Commission's proposals on the future of European research with calls for more measures to support universities' participation in European research activities.
The EUA focuses on five areas in its paper: basic research; research training and career development; university infrastructure; inter-university cooperation at European level; and the role of universities in regional development.
Universities are 'strategically placed at the interplay of RTD [research and technological development], educational and regional development policies at both national and European level,' according to the EUA. 'Future research policy and practice should [therefore] take account of this unique role and thus of the potential added value brought by the universities to the European research effort in a mid to long term perspective,' reads the paper.
While universities are already involved in the EU's Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) for research, involvement is currently at the level of individual researchers and teams of researchers. The EUA would like to see the participation of universities as institutions in future research programmes, and believes this can be achieved by specifying the areas where universities have most to offer in terms of meeting the objectives of the framework programmes, and by using funding instruments that make participation more viable for universities.
The EUA endorses the Commission's objective of increasing support for Europe's very best researchers and research teams, but also underlines the importance of helping all universities to improve their research performance. While this position applies to European research activities in general, the EUA emphasises it in relation to the proposed European Research Council (ERC), which would fund basic research on a competitive basis.
The EUA supports the creation of an ERC, but draws attention to 'the inherent risk involved of privileging strong universities in some countries and regions to the detriment of others where capacity needs to be further developed.' Ensuring a balance could also be achieved by using the EU Structural Funds to boost research infrastructure capacity where needed, suggests the university association.
The importance of maintaining independence for the ERC is also emphasised by the EUA, as is the necessity of funding all types of basic research, not excluding the social sciences and humanities.
Staying with the idea that universities as a whole should be more involved in European research, the paper proposes that the institutions rather than individual scientists should be involved in the governance of the ERC.
The association is very supportive of the Marie Curie actions, which fund transnational mobility for training purposes. It calls for additional funding for the scheme in view of the level of oversubscription, and offers its backing for the new emphasis that it says is being placed on forging a strategic policy linkage between mobility actions and the development of European scientific careers. The EUA paper also supports the Commission's proposals for a 'European Researchers Charter' and a 'code of conduct for the recruitment of researchers'.
The EUA sees the ERA-NET scheme as another area where there is more room for university participation. The objective of the ERA-NET scheme is to step up the cooperation and coordination of research activities carried out at national or regional level in the Member States and Associated States through networking and the mutual opening up of national and regional research programmes.
''ERA-UNIV-NETS' would address governance issues pertaining to the research mission of universities, such as university-industry collaborations, university financing and research costs, research career development and recruitment, research infrastructure support and maintenance, financial management and accounting,' states the EUA.
Saving what it considers to be its most important recommendation to last, the EUA concludes by arguing that the increased budget that has been proposed for the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) be used to improve the financial basis and viability of university participation in EU research activities.
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