Brussels, 22 Jul 2003
A Commission study of 769 public research centres across Europe has concluded that a process of rationalisation at a European level would reduce the amount of funding needed to provide research services in certain areas.
Currently some 100,000 researchers are employed within the sector, and it is estimated that Europe's public research centres handle a combined annual budget of 25 billion euro.
The study reveals that 'the overhead costs of maintaining expertise and facilities in particular areas could be borne much more easily across the European market as a whole.' Growing harmonisation of public services and legislation provide a positive impetus for rationalisation, it adds.
The research was led by the policy research in engineering, science and technology (PREST) department of the UK's University of Manchester, and was initiated by the Commission in order to address a lack of data on public research centres when compared with knowledge of universities and industrial research centres.
European Commissioner for Research, Philippe Busquin, said: 'Public research centres have been overshadowed by the other research sectors for too long. The findings of this study will help to redress this balance by highlighting the sector's strengths as well as its weaknesses.'
A key strength revealed by the study is the willingness and ability of government funded research centres to reinvent themselves. Challenging the view that public research is in decline, analysis reveals that the sector is larger and more dynamic than many realise, and that it has worked hard to forge stronger links with industry.
These links have also led to a shift in priorities for public research institutes. Many centres have moved away from basic research activities to applied research, with figures showing that while just over half of those centres polled are involved in pure research, 92 per cent focus on applied research.
The study reveals areas where new policies could increase support for public research. Examples include measures aimed at enhancing innovation capacities, and the need for strategic research bases in order to retain intellectual capital and counteract market pressures to perform increasing amounts of consulting work.
'We must build on this knowledge to ensure that our policies help public research centres maximise their contribution to achieving a European Research Area and making the EU knowledge based economy the most dynamic in the world,' Commissioner Busquin concluded.
To see the Commission study, please consult the following web address: