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Researchers wanted for Commission’s new R&D ‘roadmap’

The European Commission's new research action plan signposts the route to achieving the EU's ambitious goal of boosting research investment to stimulate future economic growth. One crucial avenue it maps out is how to fill the growing shortage of researchers.

Europe has long depended on science and technology for its prosperity. The Commission estimates that R&D investment is responsible for 25 to 50% of economic growth. Yet European research investment continues to lag behind that of its major global competitors.

To address this research deficit, European Union leaders pledged in Barcelona last year to bolster their collective research and development investment to 3%, from the current level of 1.9%, of the Union’s GDP by 2010. If this ambitious drive succeeds, the higher investment in knowledge will help the EU economy grow by an additional 0.5%.

As the 2010 deadline looms ever closer, the need for swift, effective and concerted action grows. The Commission’s action plan, produced in consultation with Member States and other stakeholders, lays out in detail the necessary steps Europe should follow to invest in its future.

“This blueprint for action marks the start of a process which has the potential to turn around Europe’s R&D fortunes … This is Europe’s chance to boost its competitive potential and [improve] people’s quality of life,” Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin told reporters at the plan’s launch. “However, this requires the determined and co-ordinated efforts of all interested parties – current and future EU Member States, and public and private sector stakeholders.”
The plan sets out key actions to consolidate the European Research Area. These include moving away from the traditional focus on national R&D and towards setting up pan-European research platforms in partnership with industry.

From brain drain to brain gain

Europe continues to produce more science and technology graduates than its major competitors. However, comparatively fewer of them subsequently take up scientific careers. Despite the EU’s growing need for scientists and research personnel, many of its most promising young minds opt to pursue their careers elsewhere.

“We are continuously losing brains in Europe,” noted Nokia’s Erkki Ormala, a senior expert for the European Round Table of Industrialists [1], at the launch of the action plan. A recent EC report (the Third European Report on Science & Technology Indicators 2003) estimates that 400,000 researchers, equivalent to 4% of Europe’s total pool of S&T human resources, work in the United States. Attracted by competitive career opportunities, some three-quarters of Europeans who do their PhD in the USA decide to stay on afterwards.

If the 3% investment target is met, it is expected to create some 400,000 new jobs a year after 2010, which represents a huge boon for Europeans. But if the human resources shortage is not addressed effectively, it could be an obstacle to achieving the EU’s research targets. The action plan outlines three measures for making S&T studies and careers more attractive for European researchers and internationally:

  • The development of new proposals on researchers’ careers – the aim is to facilitate the opening of national systems for the recruitment, evaluation and further career development of researchers at European and international levels. The plan also stresses the need for a specific regulatory environment.
  • An examination of the case for further European or concerted measures to substantially enhance the conditions for researchers in Europe.
  • The adoption and implementation of the proposals for an action plan and a directive on the conditions of entry and stay of third country researchers entering Europe for research work.


[1] ERT proposals to improve the EU's competitiveness are detailed in its message to the European Council, entitled "The European Challenge", published in advance of the Spring 2003 Summit meeting in Brussels.

 

last update: 07-05-2003