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EU asks for help to boost research management


Earma 2023: Bloc seeks detail on research support’s impact, as research managers herald “golden age”

The European Commission is pushing for more recognition for research managers as it tries to upgrade support for researchers across the continent.

Anna Panagopoulou, Commission director for the European Research Area (ERA) and innovation, said that EU institutions believe research management has an “essential role” in strengthening the European R&I system and that more support for it is needed.

“There is a strong momentum for change that we should not lose,” she said via video message on the first day of the 2023 annual meeting of the European Association of Research Managers and Administrators (Earma)—for which Research Professional News is media partner.

But despite this, there is a belief at the highest level that major gaps still exist in the support researchers can call on.

“Excellence and excellent researchers are everywhere. But in several areas of the ERA territory, excellent support and leadership in research is missing,” Panagopoulou said.

‘Send us the evidence’

Panagopoulou called on meeting attendees to provide evidence of the impact of research management to policymakers and to build stronger networks, including through the research management ‘roadmap’ project on which Earma is leading.

“The [research management] profession is often overlooked, despite its vital role in supporting the research and innovation cycle,” she said. “To address this issue, we need evidence of the added value of the profession, to raise awareness and persuade policymakers to invest in research management capacity.”

Stijn Delauré, a Commission policy officer who appeared in person at the meeting in Prague, explained that the EU is looking for information on issues such as how much of researchers’ time is freed up by research managers and what minimum investment in management is needed to improve research.

“We have circumstantial evidence that countries and organisations that invest in these roles are more successful in knowledge creation, circulation and valorisation, but we do not know the extent,” Delauré said.

‘Golden age’

Such increased attention paid to the profession by policymakers, and the growing diversity of research management roles, shows that research management is entering a “golden age” in Europe, Nik Claesen, Earma’s managing director, told attendees.

“Every day, more people are realising the value of research managers. While our profession is still being misunderstood by many, the value of our work is becoming clearer,” he said.

Claesen pointed to the work by the Commission and the Council of the EU member state governments to support the profession through the ERA policy package for strengthening the continent’s R&I system.

One of 18 priorities for 2022-24 agreed for the ERA is ‘Action 17’—“enhancing the strategic capacity of Europe’s public research performing and funding organisations”—which is focused on the role of research managers.

The leadership of the EU institutions through Action 17 is “game-changing” for the profession, said Claesen. He said another “game-changer” is the roadmap Earma is coordinating to shape the future of research management.

The RM Roadmap project has received €1.5 million from the EU research programme. It is intended that by 2025 it will connect existing networks of research managers, clarify the nature of the role and set out its potential to support European R&I systems.

Research managers have been increasingly engaged in pushes to professionalise their jobs in recent years. Many of them have high hopes for the RM Roadmap.

“We are professionals, we need professional recognition,” said Claesen.

This article also appeared in Research Europe and a version appeared in Research Fortnight