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European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science
Conference on Researcher Careers and Mobility
Irish Presidency / Dublin
14 May 2013
Minister Sherlock, Professor MacCraith,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I'd like to begin by placing this conference in the context of the current economic climate.
The European Union is putting clear emphasis on policies that will return us to growth and create more and better jobs. All the evidence shows that investments in research, education and innovation are key drivers of growth and job creation.
This is why now, more than ever, we all need to focus on skills, knowledge and innovation.
In a knowledge-intensive, innovation economy, there is a clear correlation between skill level and employment.
For example, the unemployment rate of people with low educational attainment is more than three times that of people who are highly educated.
Employment in innovation and knowledge-intensive sectors has also been resilient: while 5 million jobs were lost in the EU between 2008 and 2010, the number of knowledge-intensive jobs increased by more than 800,000.
In these sectors, innovation is key and Europe simply cannot afford to lose the worldwide innovation race.
In 2010 I launched Innovation Union, our initiative to remove the barriers to innovation in Europe, to make the European Union an Innovation Union.
Innovation Union aims to improve the basic conditions that will let companies grow and entrepreneurs flourish. An environment in which business large and small can prosper is essential to achieving the smart, sustainable and inclusive growth that Europe desperately needs.
So we are concentrating on putting in place the conditions that will smooth the path from lab to market, and lead to new products and services that people around the world want to buy and use.
We are making excellent progress on the 34 different commitments contained in Innovation Union, including the Unitary Patent, the European Passport for venture capital funds and innovation-friendly public procurement.
Innovation, however, relies on ground-breaking research, and one of Innovation Union's biggest commitments is to achieve the European Research Area, or ERA.
Rather than creating a single research system, ERA aims to connect up national research systems so that we can get more out of them.
It aims to spread excellence by encouraging cross-border research collaboration and open innovation. Think of it as a "European Single Market" for research, knowledge and ideas.
ERA will help ensure a sufficient supply of highly-qualified workers by offering researchers more attractive and rewarding careers, and by removing obstacles to mobility across sectors and countries.
So the ERA initiative sets out a series of measures to enable researchers, research institutions and businesses to better collaborate, move, and compete across borders.
It identifies concrete steps to be taken by the EU Member States, stakeholders and the European Commission, working together within a reinforced partnership.
The Commission is monitoring progress very closely. At the request of the Heads of State and Government, we will present our first progress report to the European Council meeting this coming October. We will certainly highlight good practice that could be spread around, but we won't be afraid to name and shame where progress is slow.
ERA will help to generate research excellence in Europe by opening up national funding to pan-European competition and, at the same time, increasing cross-border competition.
That is what top scientists want – to compete and to work together. EU-wide competition is more effective than selection only organised within national boundaries. The selection pool is simply bigger.
While, by definition, excellence cannot be everywhere, my travels over the last three years have convinced me that it can develop anywhere in Europe.
ERA won't just bring benefits to the richer and more developed regions that already have strong research systems. ERA will help all regions to advance through 'smart specialisation', with each focusing on their particular areas of strength.
Horizon 2020 and the Structural Funds will support this approach.
To take one example, the "European Research Area Chairs" concept, already being piloted under FP7, will help public universities and other eligible research organisations to develop their potential so that they can achieve excellence on a sustainable basis.
In this regard, I am pleased to see that the Irish Presidency has reached out to many Member States and regions in Europe.
There are currently just under 2.5 million researchers in the EU.
Increasing R&D investments to 3% of GDP in 2020, as Member States have committed to do, will mean that we will need 1 million more researchers to absorb that increased capacity. Young people are the ones best placed to capitalise on this opportunity.
Innovation Union asks Member States to draw up plans to make up this shortfall in researchers.
Many have introduced national strategies or even legislation to ensure they train enough researchers to meet their own national R&D targets.
I know that this is a real challenge in the current economic climate and with pressure on public spending, but I want to encourage Member States in their efforts because a pipeline of new, highly-trained researchers will be a huge asset for our society and our economy.
But training researchers just to remain in academia is no longer enough.
From the outset, knowledge transfer should be given more recognition as part of an academic career. Researchers should be better attuned to the innovation potential of their findings, and academics should get the training and experience they need to sharpen their entrepreneurial skills.
Doctoral schools can play a pivotal role in enhancing knowledge transfer. Working with experts in this area, we have identified seven 'Principles for Innovative Doctoral Training' that emphasise fostering excellence and a critical mind set. They also require transferable skills training and exposure to industry or other relevant employment sectors.
The Council of Ministers has endorsed these principles and has called on Member States and universities to provide financial support.
The European Parliament has also allocated an extra 20 million euro to kick-start a new Marie Skłodowska-Curie action for innovative doctoral programmes, in collaboration with private companies, called 'European Industrial Doctorates'. This year, experts designated by the European Commission will visit a number of doctoral schools in order to learn how to further spread the use of these principles.
I'd now like to take you through a number of other ERA initiatives that are particularly relevant to your agenda over the next two days.
One of the most important problems that we still need to fix in certain areas is the lack of transparent, open and merit-based recruitment.
A lack of open recruitment is simply unfair to people, women in particular.
It also prevents universities from putting together the best possible research teams. That's bad for the quality of research, and in the long run, bad for a knowledge society.
Member States have signed up to removing any outstanding barriers to fair recruitment and stakeholder organisations such as LERU and the EUA who signed Memoranda of Understanding with the Commission, are committed to encouraging their members to fill their research positions according to open recruitment procedures and to advertise all their vacancies on EURAXESS.
These steps will go a long way towards making research careers more attractive, encouraging mobility and ultimately improving research quality. In other words, openness goes hand in hand with excellence.
But recruitment is only the beginning; we also need to make research careers more attractive.
The Commission is working very hard to support researchers' career development. Nearly 250 universities, research institutes and funding agencies from across Europe are now engaged in a peer review exercise of their human resources strategies, in line with the "European Charter for Researchers" and the "Code of Conduct for the Recruitment of Researchers".
To date, over 130 institutions have received the "HR Excellence in Research" logo for their efforts. We have also recently launched a study to test the feasibility of a European-wide Accreditation Mechanism for genuinely good HR management in the public research sector. We'll have the results this autumn.
And our efforts to improve recruitment and research careers are not just aimed at European researchers working in Europe.
We also need to attract the most talented researchers from outside Europe who can contribute to our knowledge base and to our growth and competitiveness.
But these researchers need information about the opportunities here and they also need practical help. That’s where EURAXESS - a pan-European initiative with more than 200 service centres in 40 European countries – comes in.
The EURAXESS network assists researchers and their families on issues like visas, social security rights, housing and child care. These are factors that can make or break a researcher's decision to move across borders.
The demand for information and assistance is certainly there and is growing rapidly: the service centres have received more than 700,000 queries in the last five years. And while 7,500 job advertisements were published on EURAXESS Jobs in 2010, this increased almost five-fold to 36,500 last year.
So I am delighted with the launch this morning by Minister Sherlock of a new Industry User Interface to make EURAXESS Ireland more attractive to industry. We will be exploring the possibility of rolling this out to other countries so that business users across Europe will have a tailored interface including both job and funding opportunities.
I believe that EURAXESS can help make Europe the destination of choice for the very best researchers from all over the world.
Fast-track immigration is another consideration for internationally mobile researchers – it's an important factor in helping attract the best global talent to Europe.
In 2005, the Council adopted the Scientific Visa Directive to reduce obstacles to the entry to, and residence in the EU, of third-country nationals. While it has had some positive impact, for example in Ireland, implementation of these measures has not been so successful in other places.
So in March this year, the Commission proposed a recast of the Directive that will set clearer time limits for national authorities to decide on applications, provide researchers with greater opportunities to access the labour market during their stay, and facilitate mobility within the EU.
For example, the Commission proposed that researchers will be able to remain for a period of 12 months after completion of their research to find employment. The proposed Directive is now under discussion by the European Parliament and Council.
All of the measures and initiatives that I have just mentioned are contributing to our overall goal of completing the European Research Area.
The steps we are taking on the policy side are complemented by our proposals for Horizon 2020, the new funding instrument for European research and innovation from 2014 onwards.
I'd just like to mention one aspect of Horizon 2020 in particular before I close.
The first pillar of the programme, 'Excellence in the science base' will support frontier or basic research, the bedrock of economic growth and the wellbeing of our society.
This is obviously good for researchers, to whom we offer opportunities to work together and develop ideas. We have proposed as part of the Horizon 2020 package a significant increase in support to the extremely successful European Research Council, which supports individual researchers of any nationality who wish to pursue pioneering frontier research in Europe. In six years the ERC has already become a gold standard for excellence in research.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Research and innovation play a key role in delivering growth and jobs. That much is very clear!
But, in the end, it is the people who make the difference.
Hence the importance that we all attach to creating the best possible conditions for our young researchers to develop the practical skills, knowledge and creative thinking that will allow them to play leading roles in a fast changing economy and to solve our biggest societal challenges.
Earlier today I was delighted to meet a number of dedicated young researchers who have been awarded travel bursaries by the Irish Research Council to come here today. Their hands-on experience will provide an invaluable insight into the real issues faced by researchers and help us frame practical solutions.
You have a very busy agenda over the next two days. I am grateful to Dr Conor O'Carroll and his colleagues in the Irish Universities Association as well as the Department of Jobs, Enterprise & Innovation for organising this event.
I would like to wish all of you an enjoyable and productive conference. I very much look forward to hearing of practical recommendations that can help us meet the ERA objectives and in particular to establish a genuine European research labour market.