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EU Funding: Research ruled by men, many female scientists agree

Vendredi 13 juin 2008

 European funds

Related EU Grant Loans Programme(s):
 Grants for experience and information exchanges on good practices in term of equality opportunities between women and men
 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.

Gender equality in scientific research has not been achieved yet, a survey co-funded by the European Commission suggests. The report is published in the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) magazine

The ‘Gender and science’ survey is based on data collected through a multiple choice online questionnaire from the EADGENE Network of Excellence and the SABRE project. 143 subjects participated in the survey.

The data suggest that while the number of women in research has increased in recent years, they are still found more frequently in some fields than others. Moreover, they receive lower salaries and are less likely to obtain a permanent contract or to climb the career ladder to more influential positions: The data show that 83.6% of men were employed on a permanent basis whereas only 56% of women were.

As it turns out, the discrimination women are facing is twofold, horizontal as well as vertical: On the one hand, their numbers are greater in fields such as biology and medicine while being under-represented in other sectors of research. On the other hand, the so-called glass ceiling prevents many female scientists from working their way up beyond a certain level, where most positions are occupied by men. This is despite the fact that the ratio of women to men is fairly balanced at the beginning of their scientific career.

The reasons for the disparity later in professional life are a little less clear, the survey finds. However, male researchers seem to perceive gender inequalities differently from their female colleagues: 76.6% of women agree that ‘research is ruled by men’, but only 47.3% of men judge the situation in the same way.

What is more, 75% of female respondents as opposed to 33% of their male counterparts felt that administrative and subordinate tasks were more readily assigned to women. Meanwhile, 57.4% of women believed that female researchers lacked the competitive behaviour required to reach more important positions. Only 27.3% of male interviewees agreed.

Both EADGENE (’European animal disease genomics network of excellence for animal health and food safety’) network and the SABRE (’Cutting edge genomics for sustainable animal breeding’) project are funded under the EU’s Sixth Framework Programme (FP6).

EADGENE as well as SABRE meet and exceed the 40% target quota of women participants, as recommended by the European Commission. Still, even in those exemplary projects, there are less women among experienced scientists than among early-stage researchers, the survey finds. In order to counterbalance this effect, the two projects have - among other things - introduced a mentoring programme to fit the needs and expectations of female scientists. Moreover, they organised an event to highlight the obstacles that still hamper women’s career progress in science.


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EU Funding: Commission provides more humanitarian aid to fight acute malnutrition in the Sahel

Mardi 3 juin 2008

 European funds

Related EU Grant Loans Programme(s):
 Grants for development actions in the framework of Cotonou agreement between the ACP countries and the EU member States

The European Commission has allocated an additional €5 million to reduce acute malnutrition and mortality in West Africa’s Sahel region

The aid targets the most vulnerable – in particular an estimated 1.3 million acutely malnourished under-five as well as five million pregnant and breast-feeding women. The countries covered are Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger as well as the Sahel regions in the north of Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Nigeria and Togo. The €5 million is in addition to the €25 million already made available in June last year (see IP/07/785) and the extra €5 million allocated for further food aid in the Sahel this year. The recent massive global increase in food prices has further intensified the pressure on the most vulnerable groups in a region chronically prone to crisis.

While responding to immediate needs, the Commission’s humanitarian aid in the Sahel complements the longer-term European Development Fund which aims, among other things, to help the Sahel countries achieve the Millennium Development Goals of reducing hunger and poverty and infant and maternal mortality. Child mortality in the Sahel is one of the highest in the world and malnutrition is associated with six out of ten child deaths – or 300,000 children under the age of five dying of malnutrition or related causes every year.

The Commission’ approach aims to manage future external shocks better. Regarding children, the aim is to act before the severe malnutrition stage by treating infants that are moderately malnourished. The Sahel plan finances ready-to-use therapeutic food and medical care as well as the provision of treated mosquito nets, training for health workers, malnutrition prevention programmes and support to local systems to detect malnourished children earlier.

In Niger, Commission-funded humanitarian projects have helped to lower the overall Global Acute Malnutrition rate in malnourished children, a key humanitarian indicator, from well over 15% in 2005 to 10% in 2007.

All funds are channelled through the Humanitarian Aid department (ECHO), under the responsibility of Commissioner Louis Michel. The projects are implemented by non-governmental relief organisations, specialised UN agencies and the Red Cross/Red Crescent movement. ECHO has a regional support office in Senegal’s capital, Dakar, and field experts in Niger and Burkina Faso. They closely follow developments in the humanitarian situation, play an active role in the local coordination of relief efforts and monitor the use of the Commission’s relief funds.

The Commission gives particular attention to improving the linkage between relief and development assistance to boost the long-term sustainability of humanitarian aid and to mainstream humanitarian concerns into development aid planning. ECHO therefore coordinates closely with the Commission services responsible for development policies and programmes, notably in the context of the 10th European Development Fund (EDF). All the relevant 10th EDF country strategy papers now include measures to respond to nutritional insecurity in the Sahel.

Press room - European Commission

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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.