Rectors voice basic research fears

July 13, 2001

The heads of Europe's universities are concerned about the planned European Union Sixth Framework Research Programme being focused on large targeted studies. They fear there could be insufficient money left over for basic research by smaller groups.

In a formal opinion, the Confederation of EU Rectors' Conferences says:

"Basic research is one of the most important activities to safeguard innovation. The confederation has difficulties seeing how basic research can be safeguarded within the large-scale projects that, to a large extent, are presented as activities for targeted research, problem-solving research."

It calls for Brussels to write provisions for basic research into its planned programmes of "networks of excellence" that are one of the building blocks of the EU's planned European Research Area. These should include "as many and as varied research communities as possible", the rectors' paper says. It adds: "Networks of small organisations and institutions would be crucial seen from an innovation perspective."

Concentrating on large projects also risks "a detrimental effect on the participation" of small and medium-sized businesses. The report says: "The effects could be even worse than under the present Framework programme, as only the largest industrial research units would be able to ensure the financial and human resources and infrastructures needed to make a bid when calls for expressions of interest are launched, thus also excluding some of the institutions and enterprises active under the current programme."

The paper airs concern about the funding of work on humanities and social sciences. These should be regarded as "much more than mere support disciplines", the report says and adds that they should be seen as "research disciplines in their own right".

It adds: "Earlier low community-funding levels to research activities within the social sciences should not lead to the conclusion that quality research within the humanities and the social sciences come at bargain prices."

At a hearing on the programme at the European Parliament's industry committee, Mae-Wan Ho, of Britain's Institute of Science in Society, was very critical of the commission's research directorate general for proposing subsidies to "failing areas of corporate science that were not in the public interest," such as genomics and biotechnology.

She claims that these subjects reduced practically every human disease to genetic factors and did not take social and environmental factors into account. She claims genomics is the "culmination of reductionist medicine" and has even caused problems such as drug and antibiotic resistance.

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