Human resources are central to the dynamic of the European Research Area. This is why the Sixth Framework Programme is allocating nearly 10% of its funding to actions which relate directly to them. Commissioner Philippe Busquin sets out his views on the subject.
You stated that, to retain its position, Europe needs an extra 500 000 researchers a year in the medium term. Is this a realistic target?
It is not only realistic, it is vital. Knowledge is our only genuine source of wealth. If we want to retain our position in the world, we need an ambitious research and innovation policy in the face of serious rivals – namely, the United States and Asian countries. This is why Europe must increase the level of investment in research to 3% of GDP and it cannot achieve that without additional 'brains'. Why 3%? Because we know that a quantified target can promote concrete action – the Maastricht criteria demonstrated that. Also, public opinion is beginning to realise that there is a correlation between investment in research and innovation and levels of employment.
The Sixth Framework Programme will allocate €1.58 billion to mobility actions and measures to promote research careers, which is a 50% increase on the previous period. What is the main objective of these actions?
This increase is not without reason. It is inherent in the research activity for researchers to feel the need to be exposed to fresh ideas, and to perfect their knowledge at foreign laboratories or research centres. European research also stands to benefit a great deal from multiculturalism. The Marie Curie actions will enable some 9 000 researchers to work abroad every year and thus to create a new generation who will 'Europeanise research'.
Our aim is for these actions to be seen as a reference point for implementation of the European Research Area and for them to be followed up by similar actions, in particular at Member State level. These initiatives also enable us to identify the obstacles to mobility. For example, recently I met a French researcher who worked in Portugal for a few months and who discovered on his return that he was no longer entitled to unemployment benefit. Such a situation is unacceptable in Europe.
So does job insecurity remain a problem of particular concern for researchers?
Most certainly – to combat this we are currently working on a Communication on research careers which should be adopted by the Commission. Rather than defining a European status, it seems to me that it would be better for each Member State to ensure that its researchers benefit from an 'acceptable' status. It is incredible for scientists aged between 30 and 35 to continue to be shunted from one insecure post to another. Europe must create a genuine employment market for its researchers, male and female, irrespective of the field of activity, employer (public or private) or country. Europe must be proud of its researchers – our best researchers must become better known and recognised European figures.
Europe produces more science PhDs than the United States and Japan, but has fewer researchers. This lack of available jobs seems particularly marked in the private sector.
We are counting on companies to meet two-thirds of the investment needed to increase investment in research to 3% of GDP. We therefore need an economic and social environment which is going to motivate firms. But now European companies are focusing more and more on other regions of the world. Although still employing European researchers, they are locating them in other continents. Europe is therefore investing massively in the training and education of its researchers without drawing full benefit from it. This is why a series of objectives designed to make it easier for companies to invest in research, in particular by changing the regulatory framework, are set out in the Communication Investing in research: an action plan for Europe which was adopted in April this year.
The Commission's point of view
The European Commission has just published a Communication entitled Researchers in the European Union: one profession, multiple careers which is based on an analysis of career prospects in the European Union. This document identifies ...
The Commission's point of view
The European Commission has just published a Communication entitled Researchers in the European Union: one profession, multiple careers which is based on an analysis of career prospects in the European Union. This document identifies the factors which shape a scientific career, namely training, recruitment methods, employment conditions, assessment mechanisms, and career advancement.
The Communication proposes concrete actions to encourage and structure a better dialogue and exchange of information with researchers, and aims to create a genuine competitive labour market in the research field in Europe.
The recommended actions include:
a 'European Researcher's Charter';
a 'Code of conduct for the recruitment of researchers';
common mechanisms to evaluate and recognise competencies, qualifications and research results;
the development of advanced training instruments;
access to sufficient funding and minimum social security benefits for doctoral candidates.
On presenting the Communication, Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin stated: 'It is essential for us to give more encouragement to young people to pursue scientific careers and to ensure that Europe retains its talent. Failure to do so would reduce our chances of creating a genuine European knowledge market and of achieving our aim of making the EU the most competitive knowledge economy in the world.'