EUROPE: Expert group sets research area conditions

A high profiled Expert Group with 13 prominent members has delivered an extensive report on the continuation of the work for the European Research Area originally planned for 2010.

The report takes stock of the research and innovation systems in Europe "in the context of global trends", notably the financial crisis, and examines the experiences gained from the Lisbon strategy while addressing the need for more fundamental changes and radical reforms.

Prepared by some of the best analytical minds in Europe, the report's underlying agenda is the 'grand challenges' for the world stemming from the Lund declaration in July. There the Swedish Presidency and the European Commission called for concerted actions on the challenges of climate change, sustainable development, energy shortages and the major influence on societal changes such challenges are going to have.

The expert group presents 14 recommendations for policy change in the community. As a new target for research and innovation, it proposes a renewed public commitment with a 3% "EU knowledge investment target", designed in a way that it "has a number of clear policy advantages over the previous Barcelona 3% target".

This is the carefully crafted recommendation: "Obtain member states' commitment to increase their investments in knowledge and set national targets so as to achieve by 2020 1% of Europe's GDP is spent from public funds on research and development and 2% of Europe's GDP on higher education. Implementation of national targets will be under the full control of governments and will not depend on private sector investment decisions."

This mechanism is proposed to be synchronised with a system of "alignment of member states' research and higher education investments". This means the European Commission should coordinate investments between member states and commission budgets in these areas, creating a stronger synergy than has been possible under the so-called subsidiarity principle of the European Union.

For European universities, the signals are greater focus on research excellence and a merit-based competition called "getting the incentives and the governance of universities right".

Over the last years, the European Commission has published several documents on the need to modernise European universities. Here is one description on how this is to be done:

"To enable universities to test and improve their governance and to foster their strategic capabilities in university management in a professional way, we recommend setting up merit-based competitive schemes at EU level for universities which can provide funding with considerable added value for those institutions that excel on a number of clearly defined dimensions. Member states may want to join forces in preparing their universities by including criteria that will enable universities to better compete at EU level..."