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Commission launches debate on human resources in European research

27 March 2003 – Europe needs an extra 500,000 researchers if it is to meet the goal set by EU leaders of boosting R&D spending to 3% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), according to European Research Commissioner, Philippe Busquin.

Commissioner Busquin was speaking at a European Commission conference in Brussels on 24 March on the future of human resources in European research. “To achieve the EU’s objectives for this decade there is an urgent need to upgrade this profession and the conditions under which research is conducted,” he said. “The European Research Area (ERA) will not materialise if it is not also a European area for researchers. We need to identify all the problems and find a way to tackle them.”

The conference comes just days after EU leaders meeting at the Spring European Council in Brussels reaffirmed their commitment to the 3% R&D target and to the development of human resources in science and technology.

Over 150 delegates from Europe’s academic, scientific and business communities attended the human resources conference, which is part of an ongoing discussion at EU level on the implementation of the ERA and on the specific initiatives taken to boost the working environment for researchers in Europe.

Speakers included Polish Minister for Research, Michal Kleiber, Secretary-General for Research at the Greek Ministry for Development, Dimitris Deniozos, Chairman of the board of Solvay, Daniel Janssen, Research Director at the CNRS, Dominique Foray, Spanish MEP, Cristina Gutierrez-Cortines and Greek MEP, Myrsini Zorba. The programme focused on two key challenges: the role of universities in the knowledge-based economy and improving the social visibility of European researchers.

Making sure the EU has sufficient high-quality human resources in the research field is essential to European future competitiveness and economic growth. It is also key to Europe reaching the Lisbon goal of becoming the most dynamic and competitive knowledge-based economy in the world by 2010.

However, there is growing awareness at national and European level of a potential deficit of researchers in Europe. Figures released by the Commission last week and highlighted by Commissioner Busquin at the conference show that while Europe currently produces more science graduates than its main competitors, it employs far fewer researchers (5.36 per thousand of the working population compared with 8.66 in the US and 9.72 in Japan). Another worrying trend is the lack of interest shown by young people in Europe for science – 67.3% of young people questioned for a Eurobarometer survey said that science lessons are not sufficiently attractive, 53.4% think that young people are less interested in scientific subjects, while over 40% believe that scientific career prospects and salaries are insufficient.

In order to deal with these and other critical human resources issues, the Commission has put in place a series of initiatives to improve the environment for researchers in Europe and to enhance their training, mobility and career development opportunities. This includes the FP6 Marie Curie Actions, a new online mobility portal and a European network of mobility centre. These last two initiatives will be launched later this year.

Improving the profile of researchers in Europe is now firmly on the EU’s political agenda. In June the Commission will publish a Communication on the career of researchers. This will cover topics such as the employment market for researchers, improving the coordination of national recruitment, assessment and career development systems and greater recognition for qualifications and professional experience at European level.

last update: 27-03-2003