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image European Research News Centre > European Research Policy > Researchers on the move
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image image image Date published : 02/10/2001
  image Researchers on the move
  At a time when the European Research Area is acquiring real substance, the European Union is preparing to welcome new members. Which raises the question of how to make the most of their potential scientific contribution. Meeting in Brussels this summer, researchers from this 'Greater Europe' looked at possible strategies to promote the essential movement of minds.

'IT IS IMPORTANT to recognise that when researchers travel and work in another part of Europe they are not only exposed to different ways of conducting and managing research, and to different research equipment and infrastructures, they are also exposed to different social and cultural experiences. Their increased awareness of these - and their recognition of their diversity across Europe - can be as important as their newly acquired knowledge and understanding,' believes Halina Koslowska of the University of Olsztyn (Poland). It is a view widely shared by participants at a conference entitled An Enlarged Europe for Researchers, which was held in Brussels in June.(1)

A scientific tradition

A Europe which includes the current 13 candidate countries will have a 30% larger population, including trained scientists and talented (future) researchers. At secondary school, there are more students strong in maths in the Central European countries than there are in the EU. What is more, these regions have a special strength when it comes to women scientists.(2) All the more reason, then, to be wary of the brain drain. 'The brain drain is a significant phenomenon, essentially to the United States,' explained one Romanian researcher. 'In Bucharest, the Canadian consulate has opened an office specifically to recruit young graduates. Another trend is to forsake the universities in favour of industry where researchers are better paid - but rarely work on subjects linked to their scientific education.'

A European career?

It is true that the 'American dream', facilitated by a 'universal' language and an absence of red tape, can be very attractive. For Vytautas Daujotis, of the University of Vilnius (Lithuania), 'The standardised and very simple procedures for access to US research institutions make it possible to find work there. Whereas the diversity of cultures and scientific policies in Europe sometimes present insurmountable obstacles to foreign researchers.' The many legal, social and financial issues reflect the idiosyncrasies of the national systems and, as Daniel Cadet (CNRS/FR) explained, 'There is an urgent need to think of the concept of a European career.' Meanwhile Louise Ackers, professor of European law at Lancaster University, drew attention to the obstacles to mobility facing many married scientists, particularly if they have young children (child care costs, schools, etc.). Listening to the conclusions of the studies she has made of the subject, one realises how much easier it is to work abroad if you are single.

New initiatives

Simplified procedures, an ambitious mobility programme and new initiatives under the next framework programme should all facilitate the movement of researchers. 'The structure and organisation of research in an enlarged Europe will largely determine the Union's future competitiveness, as well as its attractiveness to researchers from all over the world,' pointed out Philippe Busquin. The European Commissioner responsible for research drew attention to a number of questions raised by the future integration of scientific research in Europe, in particular 'the risk of divesting the candidate countries of their infrastructures and best researchers, and thus introducing new forms of the brain drain.'

To compensate for this, return grants (like those that already exist under the Marie Curie programme) should make it possible for researchers to return 'home' complete with new knowledge and experiences, thereby promoting the essential transfer of knowledge.

Desired reciprocity

Many Central and Eastern European scientists can only conceive of exchange on a reciprocal basis. 'If we look at the enlarged Europe, we must recognise that the partners are not equal. But that does not mean one must think in terms of aid. They are working together across the continent of Europe for mutual benefit,' believes Halina Koslowska.

This 'bilateralism' is a key condition for an integration which includes increased and continuous exchanges between researchers. Dervila Donnelly, of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, sees the mobility of individuals as not only crucial to scientific progress, but also beneficial to closer contacts between institutions. It also permits complementarity between university and industrial research.


(1) Instigated by Romano Prodi and Philippe Busquin, An Enlarged Europe for Researchers was held on 27 and 28 June in Brussels. With the aim of assessing the issue of mobility in the context of enlargement, the conference included sessions on employment and social issues, free movement of people, financial aspects, infrastructures and networks, and the human element (e.g. research networks).
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(2) Data published by the European Report on the Quality of School Education - Sixteen Quality Indicators which analyses the situation in 26 European countries (published in May 2000 by the Commission).
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A Mobility Strategy for the European Research Area

This Communication, adopted by the Commission on 20 June, highlights four fields of action in creating favourable conditions for the mobility of researchers:

  • information on the opportunities available - thanks to a specific internet gateway with details of posts, programmes, etc. - as well as improved statistics;
  • the creation of 'mobility centres' providing researchers with practical assistance in their efforts to set up abroad;
  • more coherent support mechanisms, at national and Community level - in particular based on the exchange of good practices;
  • an improved legal status for researchers (visas, access to employment, social security, taxation).


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Overcoming the obstacles

What are the obstacles to the mobility of researchers in Europe? Is the situation the same in each country? What lessons can be drawn from good practices in this field? After studying the problem in various EU countries, a group of experts identified a number of legal and administrative, socio-cultural, professional and intersectoral obstacles facing researchers seeking to work abroad.

The difficulties vary depending on the length of stay and the initial status of the researcher in his or her own country. Taxes and social security (e.g. medical insurance, pension rights, maternity leave), career opportunities and the recognition of diplomas, and bridges between research and industry (creation of spin-offs, intellectual property rights, etc.) vary enormously between countries.
This useful document summarises the various obstacles to mobility in the Member States and gives examples of good practices in the various fields.

High-Level Expert Group on Improving Mobility of Researchers - Final Report - 04/04/2001

European Commission,
Research Directorate-General



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There is also a virtual aspect to the integration of European research. Thanks to the GEANT project developed at CERN, a broadband telecommunications network will link European universities and research centres, enabling those working there to use the high technology of the grid. The successor to the web, this innovation should vastly increase the scope for cooperation and networking
(see RTD Info 30).



RTD info 31





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