and pulling – the forces of researcher mobility in Europe
08 July 2004 - Over 700 representatives from the world
of research, industry and politics - from across Europe and beyond
- met in Paris on the 29 and 30 June to discuss the challenges of
researcher mobility in the European Research Area.
The international hub of Paris student life – the Cité
Internationale Universitaire – was a perfect setting for the
kick-off to the two-day event which aimed to identify the challenges
involved in attracting and keeping researchers in Europe, whilst
promoting international mobility.
“When Europe is capable of attracting top researchers from
across the world, we can consider the European Research Area a success,”
announced Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin at the launch of
The highlight of the first evening was a live broadcast
by the Franco-German TV channel, Arté. The documentary “Dans
les couloirs de la recherche” gave an honest portrayal of
the daily trials and tribulations of a group of international researchers
working in a French biomedical laboratory and showed how international
mobility is an inherent part of their profession.
The audience also heard how the new European Network of Mobility
Centres (ERA-MORE), officially launched by Commissioner Busquin
during the event, will provide researchers and their families with
some 200 ‘one-stop’ information points to help ease
the transition between European and partner countries. “We
want researchers coming to Paris to be considered as guests, not
just as scientists travelling through,” commented Michel Gentot,
President of the Cité Internationale Universitaire, one of
the key French mobility centres contributing to ERA-MORE.
Drain, gain or circulation?
The international event continued on 30 June with a conference
entitled ‘Brain Drain, Brain Gain: New Challenges’,
at another symbolic venue in Paris – the Cité des Sciences
et de l’Industrie, one of Europe’s top science museums,
and co-organisers of the occasion, in partnership with the European
Commission, the British Council and the Italian and German embassies.
To set the scene, Yves Hersant from the Ecole des Haute Etudes
en Science Sociales in Paris gave an elegant historical perspective
on the mobility of researchers. In Renaissance Europe, researchers
– studiosi – travelled widely and considered mobility
as the only path to self-accomplishment. On the contrary, explained
Hersant, for the studiosi a ‘brain drain’ would have
been to stay in one place, in a closed world.
However, the pressures of the present day economic context provided
the strongest underlying current for the rest of the day’s
discussions. Participants were reminded of the commitments made
in Barcelona by EU heads of state to devote 3% of EU gross domestic
product to research by 2010, implying that some 700 000 new researchers
must be recruited in Europe by this date.
Commissioner Busquin underlined the importance of human resources
in reaching this objective and announced a new EU ‘Researchers
in Europe’ initiative for 2005. “I have proposed that
mobility should be one of the priorities in the context of the new
financial perspective for Europe but also at the centre of a vast
awareness-raising campaign aimed at the general public on researchers
in Europe, which will be launched by the European Commission next
year,” he said.
Contacts and culture
A number of speakers referred to their own personal experiences
of mobility. Thibaut Roulon, a French molecular biologist, is one
of many young European researchers to have taken up a position in
the USA after doctoral studies in Europe. He talked of the benefits
of mobility: “You find yourself confronted with people who
think and act differently. You arrive with your own culture and
your ideas and by confronting these you can create real added value,
whether financial, scientific or human,” he explained.
Roulon stressed the importance of networking in mobility –
he works for a biotech company in California set up by other French
researchers – but decried the lack of systematic contact between
Europe and its expatriated researchers. These can be points of attachment,
he said, and a way of helping people to circulate, but he stressed
that lack of investment in research in Europe – and the consequent
lack of jobs – was a key factor in keeping researchers like
himself from returning ‘home’.
Addressing the conference, François d’Aubert, French
Minister for Research, agreed that mobility needed to be handled
more systematically: “No management [of mobility], little
return: the ingredients are there for a long-term weakening of our
competitiveness,” he said.
The minister added that he was in favour of a doctoral or postdoctoral
experience abroad being made an obligatory step in researcher training.
Push and pull
A second round table dedicated to initiatives in place
to promote the attractiveness of research gave the audience a chance
to hear how the UK, France, Germany, and the Nordic countries, as
well as the European Commission, have put programmes in place to
attract top foreign researchers and students. However, Lloyd Anderson,
Director of Science, Engineering and the Environment at the British
Council, stressed the importance of symmetrical co-operation. “A
one-way flow of experts is both unsustainable and unethical,”
David Schindel, Head of the European Office of the US National
Science Foundation, admitted that US researchers were very mobile
within, but not outside, the US. In the American system, he said,
professors push their students always to look for the best place
to do research and pull in from around the world the best colleagues
who will enrich their local environment.
Raffaele Liberali, Director of the Human Factor, Mobility
and Marie Curie Actions at the European Commission, highlighted
one of the biggest differences between the European and US systems.
“Our researchers get their independence too late,” he
said, describing the “strong hierarchy which blocks and pushes
our young researchers to go abroad to get a breath of fresh air”.
Many of the younger researchers present vehemently agreed. “People
need to be taken seriously at an early stage,” commented Dagmar
Meyer, Chair of the Marie Curie Fellowship Association.
Liberali, along with other speakers, also pleaded for a greater
social visibility of science. “Show society what you are doing
and why you are doing it. Otherwise you won’t have society’s
support and you won’t have a budget,” he said.
Mixing permanence with risk-taking
The final round table explored ways in which other forms
of mobility – between disciplines, between basic and clinical
research, and between academic research and industry, can increase
the attractiveness of research careers.
Christian Bréchot, Director-General of Inserm, the French
biomedical research agency, explained how his agency was developing
a mechanism whereby researchers could have a permanent position
and, in addition, the possibility to have a temporary contract to
interface with universities, hospitals, industry, or international
organisations, for example.
A European research career model, said Bréchot, should combine
notions of permanence with those of flexibility and attractiveness,
and keep intact the capacity for risk-taking.
Closing the conference, Alexandre Quintanilha, from the University
of Porto, said the day had been rich in success stories but that
much more remained to be done. “We need to move much faster
and more aggressively. The examples of success need to be imitated
and developed in different countries.” Nevertheless, there
were some reasons for optimism, he concluded: “We are doing
things in Europe that will not only attract and keep, but also give
a voice to the researchers who are helping to build a Europe of