EUROPE: A better life for EU researchers?

The 27 European Union governments have moved to improve the working conditions and career prospects of their researchers by approving measures designed to provide them with "real social recognition and a satisfactory standard of living".

The text of a communication agreed by EU competiveness ministers last month pledges governments to "making the labour market for European researchers more open and competitive (and) providing better career structures, transparency and family-friendliness".

Throughout the document there is an insistence on pan-European development and the free movement of knowledge between the member states and the EU institutions.

This is essentially a response to two difficulties thrown up as the EU tries to develop its Lisbon strategy for making the EU the world's IT powerhouse by 2010: the concentration of research effort within national borders rather than across the whole of the EU and the way in which EU research continues to be much more distant from the business world than in the US or Japan.

The paper stresses "the crucial importance of innovation and, consequently, the need for enhanced collaboration between the worlds of academic research and industry." Ministers agreed individual governments should consider a number of initiatives, including systematic opening of recruitment for researchers, meeting the needs of mobile researchers with regard to social security and supplementary pensions, improving work and employment conditions to make scientific careers more attractive, and improving the training, skills and experience of researchers.

They said there was a need to strengthen the attractiveness of the European higher education area as well as to "strengthen the links between the fields concerned by coordinating the Lisbon Strategy with the Bologna process around the doctorate and the modernisation of higher education".

The ministers stressed that a balance must be found between opening up at European level and respect for the autonomy of research and higher education institutions. They further accepted there would have to be more cooperation between EU member countries if social security schemes, including pensions, were to be brought together.

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