‘Name and shame’ warning over slow research reform

European Union Research Commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn has warned that she will “name and shame” member states that fail to speed up reform of research. “With Europe crying out for growth, the European Research Area can't wait any longer,” she said.

"We can’t continue with a situation where research funding is not always allocated competitively, where positions are not always filled on merit, where researchers can’t take their grants across borders, where large parts of Europe are not even in the game, where there is a scandalous waste of female talent and where our brightest and best are leaving, never to return.”

Geoghegan-Quinn said she wanted an entirely new ERA partnership, with a stronger role for key stakeholders, and much tougher monitoring of member states’ progress.

“I will not hesitate to ‘name and shame’ those who perform badly against ERA objectives,” she said.

Her warning came at a conference in Brussels on 30 January. The European Commission will now decide which issues should be addressed as priorities when finalising the ERA Framework, to be tabled this June with the aim of completing the European Research Area by 2014.

Responses to a public consultation on the ERA demanded that Europe should be made more attractive for top scientists and globally mobile private investment in research.

More transnationally coordinated research, higher scientific excellence, more cooperation across borders and more research on tackling global challenges were also cited.

The consultation on areas of untapped potential for the development of the ERA opened on 13 September 2010 and ended on 30 November 2011.

Nearly 700 responses and position papers were received from a wide range of stakeholders, the greatest numbers from individual researchers and the higher education sector, followed by public administrations and the business sector. Many national and European research organisations submitted position papers.

Overall, there was overwhelming support for pursuing development of the ERA for completion by 2014, the commission said.

Problems and deficiencies in relation to research careers and mobility emerged as a priority even when the dominant proportion of responses from individual researchers to an online questionnaire was factored out.

Responses from national and European organisations that represent the interests and views of significant numbers of research stakeholders, as well as the official responses from member states, point to cross-border operations, open access and international cooperation as priorities on a similar footing as researcher-related issues.

The online survey indicated that after deficiencies in careers and mobility, the most urgent priorities for researchers are problems relating to research infrastructure, knowledge transfer and cross-border collaboration.

One of the main messages from the research community is the need to attract and retain more leading researchers in Europe and to provide researchers with better and especially business-relevant skills.

The global attractiveness of Europe as a location for researchers and private research and development investment should also be increased by reducing the fragmentation of the European market, and by improving employment and career prospects for researchers.

An absence of open and transparent recruitment procedures was regarded as one of the main barriers to the international mobility of researchers. A lack of political commitment is considered to be the major difficulty for transnationally coordinated research. Much more political will will be needed for national funding agencies to support joint research programmes.

Most respondents consider that universities and public research organisations should be given incentives to develop and implement strong knowledge transfer strategies and structures.

A broad majority of respondents consider that greater involvement of women in science will contribute to European socio-economic growth. Slow progress in achieving gender equality is mainly attributed to the persistence of gender stereotypes in the labour market, lack of support in research institutions and slow progress in their modernisation.

Increased incentives, improved working environments and the inclusion of gender issues in research programmes, content and outcomes were recommended.