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EU research – performing well but still playing catch-up

27 March 2003 – Europe produces more graduates and PhDs in science and technology than its main competitors but still lags behind in many other aspects of R&D, according to a new report published by the European Commission.

The third European Report on Science & Technology reveals that 2.14 million graduates and PhDs were conferred in Europe in 2000, compared to 2.07 million in the US and 1.1 million in Japan. It notes that European scientists continue to excel in areas such as medical research, chemistry, aeronautics and telecommunication. However, serious challenges remain. Europe employs fewer researchers than its main rivals (5.4 researchers per 1000 employees, against 8.7 in the United States and 9.7 in Japan), invests less in R&D, and continues to lose its best talent to the United States.

The so-called ‘brain drain’ from Europe to the United States is on the increase. It is estimated that 400,000 researchers, equivalent to 4% of Europe’s total pool of S&T human resources, live in the US. The majority of these researchers will end up staying in the US. Nearly 75% of European graduates prefer to stay in the US after their PhD, attracted by the extremely competitive career and employment opportunities. “This growing trend must be taken seriously, since it is generally recognised that the period following a PhD graduation is like to represent the most productive years of a researcher’s career,” the report states. The Commission hopes the new FP6 Marie Curie Return and Reintegration grants will help reduce the number of researchers who decide to opt for a career outside Europe.

At the launch of the report, Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin said the S&T report is a major policy tool which will help European leaders in research and innovation to monitor their progress. “The aim is to map out and highlight the areas where Europe excels. This in turn will attract excellence. Increasingly, our researchers look first to the US before considering what is available for them here in Europe. To address our shortcomings and build on our strengths, we must first focus on the benefits that Europe has to offer. I am confident policy-makers will take this into account in their efforts to meet the objective of turning Europe into the most competitive knowledge-based economy by 2010," he said.

last update: 27-03-2003