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‘More active commitment needed’ to improve EU research careers


European university groups say recent Commission proposal on research careers is only a “first step”

Five European university groups have joined forces to warn that “more active” commitment from EU member states will be needed to improve research careers in the bloc.

The EU political institutions are seeking to better support researchers in their careers due to heightened concerns over working conditions, particularly for those at the start of their careers, who often face job insecurity.

In July, the European Commission put forward a proposal with a suite of initiatives to improve research careers, including a planned “investment strategy” and a European framework for research careers. The proposal is being considered by the member states.

‘Just a first step’

On 2 November, the Aurora European University Alliance, the Coimbra Group of multidisciplinary universities, the European University Association, the Guild of European Research-Intensive Universities and the Young European Research Universities Network released a joint statement welcoming the Commission proposal but warning that further steps are needed.

“While we recognise that this proposal is moving things forward, we want to emphasise that the adoption [of the proposal by the Council of the EU member states] will be a first step in a series of more active commitments that member states would need to embark upon to fulfil the objective of improving research careers in Europe,” they said.

The groups pointed out that if member states do adopt the proposal—by agreeing on a Council Recommendation—enacting its initiatives will only be voluntary.

They said: “Given the voluntary nature of the Council Recommendation, we caution against the risk of further divergence in career pathway and talent retainment strategies between countries already having mechanisms in place versus countries not implementing the recommendations.”

‘Need for adequate funding’

As well as adopting the proposal, the member states should take on the “corresponding responsibility” of improving framework conditions for universities through legislative changes at national and regional levels and providing universities with adequate funding, the groups said.

They said this should include reversing a decline in core funding to prevent an over-reliance on competitions.

The member states should also remove obstacles that hinder researchers in cross-border and cross-sector mobility, the groups said. These include difficulties and delays in getting academic qualifications recognised, the risk of precarious employment conditions and the loss of acquired social security rights.

A proposal to limit to one-third the share of researchers employed on fixed-term contracts does not take into account variations among institutions, they groups also complained.