Brussels, 25 Mar 2003
The European Commission is raising the profile of its human resources and mobility initiatives as part of efforts to find the additional 500,000 scientists needed to achieve the Barcelona objective on research spending.
In order to meet the target of raising investment in research to three per cent of GDP, the Commission believes that action is needed to promote a career in the sciences, and to stem the flow of researchers taking up positions outside the EU.
As Commissioner for Research Philippe Busquin explains: 'More and more researchers trained in Europe leave for and remain in the USA. These considerable losses in terms of human resources are a drain on European research resources.'
At a conference held to address these issues in Brussels on 24 March, Mr Busquin highlighted that while, in relative terms, the EU produces more PhDs that the US, Europe has far fewer professional researchers.
In order to overcome this discrepancy, the Commission is launching a number of initiatives, including the creation of an online mobility portal designed to provide information to researchers wishing to relocate, and the publication of a communication in June 2003 analysing the careers of researchers in Europe.
However, the cornerstones of EU mobility initiatives are the Marie Curie Actions, which are supported by 1.58 billion euro of EU funds under the new Sixth Framework Programme (FP6). The Marie Curie schemes are mainly focussed towards either the training of researchers at the start of their careers, or by promoting the exchange of staff in order to create partnerships and transfer knowledge within Europe.
The Marie Curie host fellowships cover both aims, as both young and experienced researchers can take up fixed-term posts advertised with various types of research institutions within Europe. The participation of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) is particularly encouraged. The first call for proposals for the scheme under FP6 were launched in December 2002, but examples of fellowships supported under the previous Framework Programme (FP5) provide an insight into how the programme works.
Molenti Farmaceutici is a leading Italian pharmaceutical firm which, with 170 employees, is categorised as an SME. When the company began carrying out research into photodynamic therapy techniques, it found that there were scientific competences necessary to the project that were missing from its in-house research team. Molenti's Dr Gabrio Roncucci had seen adverts for the Marie Curie host fellowships in scientific journals, and decided to use the scheme to try and find a researcher to fill the gap.
The first step was to apply to the Commission for the funding, which covers all the costs related to the hiring of foreign researchers and includes a contribution to research and management costs. As Dr Roncucci explains: 'When you work in a small to medium sized company you are always engaged with so many urgent matters that sometimes it is not easy to find the time to write funding applications but I must say that the industry host application is not complicated once you have your ideas straight about the scientific aspect of the project.'
Having been accepted for the scheme, Dr Roncucci advertised the opportunity and found Dr Aldrik Velders, a research fellow from the Netherlands with the right skills for the role who took up the post at the start of 2003. Dr Roncucci says that having a foreign researcher 'with a different background and scientific culture' is exciting for the exclusively Italian team at Molenti.
Dr Velders, meanwhile, says that he welcomes the opportunity to enter several new areas of research and immerse himself in the new culture of his host country. 'Definitely this fellowship is a plus point on one's CV. Besides the experience abroad, the 'industrial' experience is very valuable,' he said.
Giving his conclusions on participating in the scheme, Dr Roncucci says: 'I would certainly recommend other SMEs apply for a Marie Curie industry host grant. I would also especially recommend fellows to opt for a period with an SME, rather than a large enterprise, because you get a much better awareness of the industrial reality.'
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