‘Serious shortcomings’ in EU research careers observatory plan

Learned societies question quality of data, mismatch to EU goals, choice of indicators and ignorance of social and political contexts used by planned monitoring tool

July 21, 2023
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European Union plans to keep tabs on research and innovation careers leave a lot to be desired, according to an umbrella body representing learned societies.

The European Commission presented early details of its plan to monitor jobs, working conditions, contracts and the international movements of those working in research and innovation in July, after signalling in January that it would set up such an observatory.

But the design that it developed with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has “serious shortcomings”, according to the Initiative for Science in Europe (ISE), which represents scholarly societies and research associations.

Among them is a global rather than purely EU focus, the initiative says in a statement, questioning why a monitor for the bloc’s plan to build a borderless research area was not linked to other long-standing goals and policies.

It also questions the quality of data that would be provided, as this will come from national statistical agencies, which the ISE says “do not meet, as has been observed by several experts, the required level of robustness”. It says agency data on contract types is typically patchy and often lacks information on benefits such as pensions and maternity leave.

The ISE says it is mystified by the choice of indicators. It questions why the observatory does not distinguish between jobs in academia, public administrations or non-governmental organisations, or why artificial intelligence augmentation of research will be monitored, but not work contributing to United Nations goals.

External factors such as gender discrimination, racism and political crises that force researchers to flee their countries should also be included, as these are “central in understanding” where and how people chose to work, the ISE statement says.

The language used to describe researchers themselves also irks the initiative, which says that referring to PhD holders only as “talent” to be “nurtured and deployed” suggests they are “a kind of commodity”.

It says it will work with the commission and EU governments in the European Council to address its concerns with the observatory, an idea it had championed before it was picked up by officials.


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