Researchers want pan-EU pension

Consultation to increase mobility highlights desire for common treatment, reports Chloe Stothart

May 8, 2008

A Europe-wide pension scheme for researchers has been mooted as part of plans to improve job mobility for academics.

A consultation on the European Research Area published by the European Commission found that 65 per cent of respondents wanted a European researchers' pension fund and almost 80 per cent wanted common rules across the European Union on acquiring, transferring and preserving pension rights.

Ben Turner, European Commission policy officer, said the Commission would try to encourage universities to use existing legal frameworks on portability of pension contributions around Europe. But he added: "Member states and the Commission might encourage an existing pension provider to set up a pan-European pension fund so then a mobile researcher would at least have the option of paying into it wherever they were.

"It is not our intention to pass new directives requiring universities to do things with pension funds; it is about using existing legal frameworks."

The Commission will also promote the benefits to member states of recruiting academics from across Europe.

Elsewhere in the consultation, 70 per cent of respondents wanted open access to raw data from publicly funded research projects, and 84 per cent wanted better access to publicly funded peer-reviewed scientific publications. More than 80 per cent thought the Commission and EU member states should define common European research priorities.

As a result of the consultation, the Commission will introduce a pre-agreed treaty in July for member states to use when they build shared research facilities owned by several countries. The Commission will also help European states work together to co-fund work that fills gaps in their research or co-operate on joint funding programmes to remove overlap, and establish joint relationships with countries outside Europe on science and technology projects in order to avoid duplication.

The drive to create a European Research Area, which was first announced in 2000, is well under way. In April, a code of practice to encourage public research organisations to share knowledge with industry and other research bodies was launched. On 22 May, the European "researchers' passport", renamed the European Partnership for Researchers, will be unveiled. This aims to help improve working conditions and benefits, boost recruitment of academics across Europe and enhance career development.

Sara Williams, chair of the UK Higher Education Researcher Development Taskforce, said: "We support what they are doing, but it could lead to a system where mobility is rewarded as an end in itself."

She warned that this could lead to a "two-tier" system of mobile researchers whose careers flourish and those whose progress suffers because they do not want to move. She added that the current system allowing researchers to move their pension contributions from one country to another was slow.

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