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Taking action to stop EU brain drain: Commission proposes measures to improve researchers’ careers


A range of measures to help prevent Europe’s best scientists abandoning their careers in Europe in favour of more lucrative opportunities in the US and elsewhere were proposed today by the European Commission.

Based on a thorough analysis of career prospects in the EU, the Communication “Researchers in the European Research Area: one profession, multiple careers” identifies factors that impact on the development of careers in R&D, namely training, recruitment methods, employment conditions, evaluation mechanisms and career advancement. The Communication proposes concrete steps to encourage and structure improved dialogue and information exchange with researchers and to establish a genuinely competitive research labour market at a European level. Recommended actions include a “European Researcher’s Charter”, a “Code of conduct for the recruitment of researchers”, a common way of evaluating and recording researchers’ skills, qualifications and achievements, advanced training tools, access to adequate funding and minimum social security benefits for PhD students.

European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin said: “Building on recent developments aimed at enhancing the mobility of researchers, such as the European Researcher’s mobility portal, the Communication represents another important step forward in improving the EU’s attractiveness for research talent across the world. It is essential that we encourage more young people to embark on scientific careers and ensure that we keep hold of our existing talent. Failing to do so will seriously undermine our chances of creating a genuine European internal market for knowledge and science, and also of meeting our objective of making the EU the most competitive knowledge-based economy in the world.”

More brains wanted

In relative terms the EU produces more science graduates (PhDs) than the United States but has fewer researchers (5.36 per thousand of the working population in the EU compared with 8.66 in the USA and 9.72 in Japan). In order to achieve the objective of raising Europe´s investment in research to 3% of gross domestic product (GDP), as decided at the Barcelona European Council meeting in March 2002, the EU will need 700 000 extra researchers.

There is therefore an urgent need to improve the image of researchers within society, attract more young people to scientific careers and foster researchers’ mobility across Europe – and back from other regions in the world. There are still some major obstacles to overcome, including in particular difficulties in cross-sector mobility such as moving from university to private business careers, and in addition the problems encountered by researchers attempting to embark on careers in universities outside their own countries.

Stop brain drain now!

The initiatives set out in the Communication include:

• the launch of a “European Researcher’s Charter”, for the career management of human resources in R&D;

• a “Code of conduct for the recruitment of researchers” at European level;

• the development of a framework for recording and recognising the professional achievements of researchers throughout their careers, including the identification of tools aimed at increasing the transparency of qualifications and competencies acquired in different settings;

• the development of a platform for the social dialogue of researchers;

• the designing of appropriate instruments in order to take into account the necessary evolution of the content of research training and

• the development of mechanisms to ensure that doctoral candidates have access to adequate funding and minimum social security benefits.

Through these actions, the Commission intends to provide the political impetus and to co-operate with EU Member States and the research community, with due respect of the subsidiarity principle, in order to make progress towards meeting common objectives.

EU training and mobility schemes for researchers

Promoting the mobility of researchers has been a long-standing goal in the Commission’s efforts to develop, attract and retain abundant and highly qualified researchers in the EU. Over 12,000 researchers have benefited so far from the EU’s training and mobility schemes. The EU 6th Research Framework Programme (FP6 2003-2006) devotes nearly 10% of its budget (€1.6 billion out of a total of 17.5 billion), to actions aimed at enhancing training and mobility opportunities for researchers, such as the Marie Curie Actions – a 60 % increase in comparison to the previous Framework Programme.

Marie Curie Actions

In particular, Marie Curie actions put a strong emphasis on initial training, for researchers at the early stage of their careers, either through trans-national research projects or through a more structured training carried out in a more academic environment. Another initiative deals with individual scholarships, which address complementary training needs for researchers who have already acquired working experience. Other actions relate to the transfer of knowledge directed either towards the less-favoured regions of the Union or the candidate countries, involving both the academic and business sectors. An important novelty, finally, concerns instruments aimed at supporting the creation of research teams; at financing university chairs; and at promoting the return of researchers and their professional integration, as well as the opening up of all instruments to researchers from third countries.

EU mobility portal, mobility centres, and legal initiatives

The drive provided by ERA offers the chance to enhance and sustain these mobility opportunities. The Communication “A Mobility Strategy for the European Research Area”, adopted in June 2001, proposed a series of concrete measures in this respect, in order to remove obstacles to mobility. This momentum resulted recently in a number of concrete achievements: the launch on 10 July 2003 of the European Researcher’s mobility portal (; the forthcoming creation of the European network of mobility centres (ERA-MORE), aimed at providing proximity assistance to researchers and their families; and a legal initiative, also expected at the end of 2003, in order to improve the entry conditions of foreign researchers into the EU.

Training, recruitment, salaries and career prospects

Geographical mobility, however, only represents one aspect of the career of a researcher. The purpose of the Communication is to go a step further by addressing, in a global framework, all other factors that have an impact on careers in R&D, namely initial training, recruitment methods, salaries, evaluation mechanisms and career prospects. Current differences regarding all these aspects prevent the creation of a truly dynamic career environment and open market for researchers. They have inevitable consequences on the EU’s capacity to attract world class researchers, on the willingness of young people to embark on research careers and on the overall perception of researchers by public opinion

Fabio Fabbi | European Commission
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