Danish research needs females - and foreigners - to get back on track, Michael de Laine writes
Being a researcher at a Danish university or public-sector research institutions is so unattractive that there is only one qualified applicant for almost half of the universities' vacant research positions, the Danish Council for Research Policy says.
Government research institutions see slightly more competition for posts and have a greater number of external applicants, but the recruitment base is limited, the council adds.
The council - the highest-ranking advisory body for the minister of information, technology and research and the government in matters of research policy - advocates higher pay and better resources for professorships and more female and foreign researchers. There should also be greater mobility and a sabbaticals system so researchers can gain wider experience.
In its latest annual report, the council says that the recruitment of qualified researchers to academic posts is crucial to the quality of Danish research and in ensuring that the country can make an impact in the increasingly competitive global scientific community.
It is necessary to make research posts at Danish public-sector research institutions more appealing as a growing number of candidates no longer see careers at such institutions as an attractive choice, the council says.
Competition must be promoted if institutions are to find suitable candidates. A broad, well-qualified applicant pool is vital for quality and self-renewal, particularly at a time when universities and research institutions must plan for retirements among researchers.
In 1995-97, nine per cent of university staff in ordinary posts changed each year, more than double the proportion at the start of the 1990s. There has been some circulation and replacement of research staff. The average age at appointment of associate and full professors is almost 40 and 50 respectively, and this age is increasing.
The council believes that a professorship should represent a research field and should express both a research and teaching priority at an institution. All appointments to full professorships should be for a five-year period, with the possibility of extension. Attention should be paid to the resources to be attached to the professorship, including salary, the number of associated research posts and operating expenses, even if this means fewer personnel are appointed.
The council believes that universities and government research institutions must offer more competitive pay compared with the private sector and with research institutions abroad if they are to recruit and retain the best researchers. There is a need for individual salary scales - with higher pay for specially skilled and qualified associate professors and senior researchers - in areas with the greatest recruitment difficulties.
Competition can be increased through a broader recruitment base that includes foreigners and women. All posts at full and associate professor level and similar levels at government research institutions should be advertised broadly and internationally.
Foreign researchers can contribute to the renewal of the research profile and quality enhancement. They can also provide a recruitment base in disciplines where the Danish base is weak or non-existent.
As well as improving competition for posts, female researchers will help create an attractive research atmosphere, the council says. They will also be able to act as role models for female students who today constitute more than half of the students at Danish universities.
Mobility will promote quality and self-renewal. Most appointments to full and associate professorships between 1995 and 1999 were made from among internal applicants. An analysis of recruitment at government research institutions in 1999 indicates that they may be more likely to fill posts with external applicants than the universities.
Mobility can be encouraged by establishing research schools and research training across institutional boundaries and by providing researchers with better opportunities for a period of work outside their host institution, so they can gain experience and inspiration from other relevant national or international environments, the council says.
WORRYING TREND IN FUNDING
Large falls in public research and development funding from 2002 pose a threat to the knowledge society, the Danish Council for Research Policy says.
"Although the 2001 financial budget increased this funding, the overall level is at best on a par with last year's and we see a heavy fall in the coming years," the council's chairman, Søren Isaksen, says.
Denmark's public R&D funding peaked at DK9.31 billion (£785 million) in 1998 and is about 4 per cent lower in 2001, at DK8.94 billion; the figure for 2003 is DK7.74 billion.
The 2001 budget increased the funding by about DK1.47 billion for 2001-04 - but ministries were also told to make cuts. Total R&D investments equalled 1.7 per cent of gross national product in 1993, rising to 2.1 per cent in 1998.
The council wants a DK1billion injection for public R&D in 2002 and real growth of 3 per cent a year thereafter.
Public R&D funding accounts for a third of Denmark's R&D expenditure, but the council fears that it will amount to 20 to 25 per cent in the next two years.
"This is a worrying trend in a country with many small businesses whose private funding, often strongly development-oriented, cannot be a substitute for the publicly funded R&D, which is often oriented towards basic research," the council says.