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EU Funding: New partnership for researchers unveiled

Lundi 2 juin 2008

 European funds

Related EU Grant Loans Programme(s):
 New framework programme for research and technology aiming at better exploiting research capacities in Europe and transforming scientific results into new products, processes and services.
 Specific programme for fundamental and exploratory research projects

Pan-European pension schemes, greater job flexibility and more skills training are just some of the benefits promised to European researchers in a new partnership between the European Commission and Member States

With these incentives, Europe hopes to encourage its best researchers to stay put, while also attracting researchers back to the continent.

The European Partnership for Researchers, the content of which was unveiled in Brussels on 27 May, builds on several existing initiatives. The most notable are the 2005 European Charter for Researchers and the Code of Conduct for Recruitment of Researchers, and the ’scientific visa’ package for the fast track admission and residence of non-European researchers.

The partnership replaces the European researchers’ passport, which Mr Potocnik said was too narrow.

The partnership is indeed more ambitious in scope and in the deadlines it has set. By 2010, the Commission and Member States aim to jointly make ‘measurable progress’ in four key areas, namely recruitment, social security and pensions, working conditions; and training.

On recruitment, the partnership aims to give universities and public research centres greater autonomy over hiring and make the process more open and competitive. All publicly funded research jobs should therefore be openly advertised. Public research organisations should also have greater freedom to recruit from abroad, since it is not always possible to find the right candidate for the job in any one country.

To date, almost all grant funding is tied to the research institution. This prevents researchers from moving; even when relocation would be beneficial to the research. Hoping to shake things up, the new partnership proposes allowing the portability of grants, along the lines of the grants system of the European Research Council (ERC) or the ‘money follows researcher’ schemed piloted by national funding agencies.

The social security needs of researchers are also addressed by the partnership. Although, current EU legislation provides some flexibility to Member States to make derogations or exceptions for researchers in order to enable greater mobility, the partnership suggests that efforts should be coordinated in order to make more appropriate use of these derogations.

Pension providers should be encouraged to open up a pan-European pension scheme targeting researchers and companies should be encouraged to use pension providers in other EU Member States. This would allow mobile researchers to contribute to the same supplementary pension fund while working in different EU countries and still comply with the different social, labour and pension legislation in the participating Member States, says the Commission.

Making researchers’ working conditions more attractive is another promise of the partnership. Currently, a career in research is a precarious one, especially for young researchers, who are often employed on temporary short-term contracts. These contracts, the Commission says, are to blame for preventing these young people from becoming independent researchers. Meanwhile, senior researchers are often on permanent contracts with career advancement based on seniority rather than performance. This limits incentives to change career path, says the Commission.

The partnership therefore proposes improving career opportunities for early-stage researchers by moving towards ‘flexicurity principles’ of easier hiring and firing, regular evaluation, wider autonomy and better training. Member States, funders and employers should also progressively introduce more flexibility in contractual and administrative arrangements for senior researchers to reward good performance.

Most researchers in Europe are still trained in a traditional academic setting. The partnership highlights the need to equip researchers with a new, more up-to-date set of skills, so that they are capable of managing intellectual property and bidding for project funding or setting up their own start-up company.

At the end of the first stage of the partnership in 2010, an overall evaluation of the situation and results from actions by the partnership will be made and the need for further EU action to address specific outstanding issues will be considered.

With these incentives, Europe hopes to encourage its best researchers to stay put, while also attracting researchers back to the continent. In 2004, of the nearly 400,000 foreign researchers in the US, an estimated 100,000 were born in the EU15. This is a significant proportion of the total population of EU researchers of 1.3 million, and these are also likely to be top performers in their fields.

The partnership will be tabled at the next Competitiveness Council on 29 May. Mr Potocnik also called on the Members States taking over the next EU presidencies to consider organising a joint meeting of the Competitiveness and Social Affairs Councils to discuss the partnership.

The European Partnership for Researchers is one of five actions planned by the Commission with a view to making the European Research Area a reality. The remaining initiatives are on the management of intellectual property by public research organisations; a legal framework for pan-European research infrastructures; joint programming and programmes; and international science and technology cooperation.