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|Special Issue - August 2003|
Quantifying European mobility
Nearly 7% of higher education students in the Member States come from foreign countries. Most of the traffic (2.4%) is in the form of inter-Union mobility. Of the remaining 4.6%, 1.7% come from Asia and Oceania, 1% from Africa, 1% from non-EU European countries and fewer than 1% from the United States. The United Kingdom has the highest intake of foreign students (15%), followed by its small neighbour, Belgium (11%), which has a particularly large proportion of African students, mainly from Morocco.
More Greeks (52 825) than nationals from any other Member State travel within the EU to study. They are followed by the French (35 363) and the Germans (34 621). There are also some favoured destinations: the Chinese have a predilection for Finland, the Greeks for England, the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina for Denmark, the Turks for Germany, and the Americans for Ireland.
Logically enough, former colonial powers welcome students from their former colonies: Algerians and Moroccans in France, Surinamese in the Netherlands, Congolese in Belgium, and so on.
The 'hard' sciences and technologies attract a large number of foreigners. In 1999, they represented 32% of the total in these branches in the United Kingdom, or more than twice as many as for all the other specialities combined. In France, they account for 5% of master's students and 29% of doctoral students, including a large proportion of North Africans.
Tony Remans, 27, a Belgian biotechnology researcher and father of a young son, has been engaged in post-doctoral research at INRA (FR) since February thanks to a European grant. He has also been awarded a doctorate in Australia and attended workshops in Spain and England. 'I have met many researchers of different nationalities. Most of them have the same fears and problems,' he stresses. These relate to the complicated matter of finding a stable job and the often Kafkaesque administrative difficulties (social security, residence permit, pension, etc.) facing all those who decide to move in a Europe.
Remans believes the solution lies in creating a European citizenship, granted according to precise criteria, for those who work in other EU countries. 'If we really want a united Europe, that should be feasible. These citizens would have a European passport and would be able to live in any Union country with their family and without having to obtain residence permits for themselves and accompanying persons. They would pay tax to the Union and not to the country of residence (the latter subsequently receiving compensation from the EU). Social security institutions set up by the Union would deduct contributions from their wages. This system would enable them to benefit from European health cover and family allowances valid in all the Member States.'
'This solution would contribute significantly contribution to advancing the European ideal. There is more to a Union than a single currency and the removal of customs barriers. International co-operation and interaction also means citizens being able to live and work without difficulty in any one of the Member States.'
'That said, the Union's actions enabling young scientists to make the most of their initial experiences of life and study abroad are important and I am very pleased to benefit from them, to be able to live in France and work at the INRA. Mobility helps to structure the European Research Area. I believe that it achieves important interactions between researchers and institutions.'
The willing nomad
'You are welcomed abroad if you are on a student exchange scheme or for a post-doctorate, but when it comes to joining the permanent staff of an institution the preference always goes to nationals,' explains Germano. He started a doctorate in Germany with a six-month grant, followed by a small Italian grant for three years. Today, Germano is the president of the ADI (Associazione Dottorandi e Dottori di Ricerca Italiani), an organisation he co-founded. 'One of our first battles was to obtain a 50% increase in the level of doctorate grants. We also wanted to convert these grants into employment contracts but unfortunately we failed to achieve this goal.'
At the age of 35, after a post-doctorate at Bristol University (UK) and another at Bielefeld University (DE), Germano (19 grants, four prizes) feels he has sacrificed a great deal for research and sometimes feels he cannot stand it any more. 'On several occasions I have wanted to quit this profession, and I am not sure that one day I will not do so.' Moreover, the support mechanisms make freedom of research difficult. 'You have to request funding for subjects that are in fashion at the time. You then have to wait and, by the time the funds are available, you find you have found a better idea for your research.'
Competition? It all depends. As a junior professor at the Phillips-Universität Marburg (DE), Germano has not felt it at this level. 'This type of post was perhaps not in very great demand, especially as there is no prospect of a permanent appointment as a full professor, and also perhaps because fewer students are choosing to study chemistry and the other hard sciences. The best often move away from research, just after their thesis, and find stable and economically attractive employment in other areas. On the other hand, the competition is very stiff for a post as full professor.'