Research funding is investment, not expense, V-P Šefčovič tells Nobel Laureate
Funding for scientific research is too often viewed as an expense rather than an investment in the future, Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič told a group of eminent scientists, including 2012 Nobel Laureate Serge Haroche on Thursday (7 March).
V-P Šefčovič was speaking after a conference in Brussels organised by the Commission's in-house research institute, the Joint Research Centre, on how quantum research can be applied to key industries such as computing and communication and potentially boost the European economy. Professor Haroche was rewarded with the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2012 for his work on the development of new techniques for the manipulation of individual quantum systems.
Europe leads the field in the area of quantum technologies, and V-P Šefčovič echoed the concerns voiced by many of the scientists that Europe must do more to ensure that its scientific advantage in this field can also be turned into a competitive one.
"We know we still have lots to do on our competitiveness," he said. "Without good science and good programmes, we will lose our edge. That’s why I'm glad that despite the tough negotiations on the future EU budget that we have experienced over the last few months, European leaders have nonetheless agreed to a 30% increase in research funding between 2014 and 2020.
"But we can do more, by simplifying the rules for access to this funding, so that European scientists spend time in the labs and not in filling in paperwork. When we are investing so much public money in research funding in Europe, it is right that we have the correct assurances that the money is properly spent, but this should not be at the expense of the research itself. The money must be seen as an investment, not simply another expense to be added to the balance sheet."
Professor Haroche also stressed the importance of communicating what science is about more effectively to European citizens. In the field of quantum technologies, he explained, the headlines were always about super-fast computers, but these are still a long way from becoming a reality. But he stressed that quantum technologies such as resistors already exist, and have changed our lives. People need to understand more how the basic research is already being applied – and that this takes a long time and requires long-term financial and political support, he added.
The JRC conference brought together European and international scientists with technology businesses such as Intel and Thales and policy-makers from the Commission to discuss how best to cooperate on turning basic quantum research into commercial opportunities in areas such as metrology and ICT.