Achieving innovation in Europe depends on retaining and attracting more researchers. Among other objectives, this means improving European researchers' work conditions and encouraging more professional mobility – strong reasons behind the Commission's new recommendation for a Charter and Code of Conduct for Researchers.
Unveiled on 11 March by Science and Research Commissioner Janez Potočnik, the European Charter for Researchers and accompanying Code of Conduct for recruiting researchers create a blueprint for improving Europe's research network, the quality of research and development and the conditions under which researchers will deliver the best results.
|Cutting red tape to encourage researcher mobility – a vital link in the European knowledge chain.|
It is not just a question of spending more on research but also improving scientists' work facilities, mobility, employment conditions and their opportunities to branch out into related areas of activity. “It is crucial to address the status of researchers,” said Commissioner Potočnik, adding that Europe must ensure that, wherever they work, “researchers are treated with the respect and esteem they deserve.”
Europe needs to produce an additional 700 000 research-related jobs, the estimated minimum needed to help the EU reach its Lisbon and Barcelona targets – to be the world's knowledge powerhouse by 2010 and for Member States to spend 3% of gross domestic product on research to achieve this.
It has made some progress in recent years, but still lags the United States and Japan in terms of the number of researchers in the general workforce. Effort is needed to cut red tape and to address the lack of mobility, the poor gender balance, the problem of overworked and underpaid personnel and the rigidities of tenure systems at institutions and universities that discourage risk-taking or unorthodox career moves, the Charter stresses.
Better pay and opportunities
Many of Europe's best researchers head to the USA for two main reasons: higher salaries and more opportunities for creative approaches to research. To stop the brain drain and encourage European talent to stay at home, EU Member States have to offer more incentives to their researchers, the Charter stipulates. One example is guaranteeing that researchers benefit from adequate social security coverage and the portability of pension rights for those that move between the public and private sectors, or between EU countries.
Another challenge to redress is the low prestige attached to teaching or research-training duties as opposed to pure research. As the Charter notes, research employers and funding organisations “should ensure that teaching duties are adequately remunerated and taken into account” in their evaluation and appraisal systems, and that time set aside by senior researchers to train younger counterparts “is counted as part of their teaching commitment”.
In the same vein, the Commission's Code of Conduct for recruiting researchers calls for recognising “mobility experience”. European researchers' career prospects can suffer if they change sectors, go on sabbatical or take temporary leave of absence to work in another institute or country. The Code notes that all such expertise – whether involving work in another country or a change of discipline or even virtual mobility experience – should be considered a valuable contribution to researcher career development.
The Charter also clearly refers to researchers' rights to enjoy the benefits of their R&D results once the latter are brought to market. This has been key to United States' ability to convert research into commercial goods and services faster. But it requires coordinated public-private partnerships and a careful definition of how rights are shared or divided between researchers and their employer organisations.
According to the Charter, it is incumbent on research employers and funding agencies to see that researchers reap these benefits via appropriate protection of intellectual property rights, including copyrights.