Royal Society warns of UK quality deficit

March 26, 2004

Basic research in Europe is lagging significantly behind the US in terms of quality and impact, a Royal Society report has warned, writes Anna Fazackerley.

The report, published this week, says there is probably a role for central European Union funding to boost fundamental research. Although Europe is only slightly behind the US in the number of scientific publications per head of the population, it trails noticeably in terms of the impact of those publications. Some 1.64 per cent of the papers in the US are highly cited compared with 0.25 per cent in Europe.

In an attempt to redress this imbalance, the report supports the formation of a European research council. This represents a change of heart by the RS, which said in January that the case for the controversial new funding body had not been made.

The report stresses that the European council must have new funding, rather than siphoning money from existing national budgets.

It says that to have an impact the council should be distributing funds of at least E1 billion (£670 million) a year within five years of its creation.

Sir John Enderby, RS vice-president, said the new council must judge research proposals according to their level of excellence. "At present, much research funded centrally in Europe is devoted to specific themes and it is not clear if it is funded on the basis of its scientific quality," he said.

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