Brussels seeks state targets for research staff and output

European Union countries could face new benchmarks on staff numbers, spending and achievements in research, under proposals discussed in Brussels this week.

Research ministers, meeting as The THES went to press, were to discuss a paper proposing European benchmarks for the number of people employed in research in relation to the workforce, their average age, the participation of people from foreign countries and of women.

The paper also called for benchmarks on expenditure as a proportion of gross domestic product, expenditure by industry and the state and other benchmarks on research outputs, measured, for example, by numbers of spin-off companies and patents.

The meeting followed discussions by the European Council in Lisbon in March about establishing a European Research Area. This also formed the background to the biannual meeting of the CRE (Association of European Universities) in Trondheim, Norway, last week.

Taking research as its theme, the conference agreed that universities were facing increasing pressures from decreased funding, international competition and greater expectations from politicians.

While European diversity was seen as creative and an advantage over the United States, several speakers said it was essential to encourage more mobility.

Reinder van Duinen, president of the European Science Foundation, said:

"You have to make a much better job of managing your human resources. It is a scandal that there is so little employment of foreign staff."

Luc Weber, president of the research group at the Confederation of Rectors Conferences, said it was essential to reduce barriers to mobility. He said European researchers who spend time studying abroad must be encouraged to return, especially from the US, and Europe should do more to attract researchers from other places, such as Asia.

While he welcomed many aspects of the European Commission's recent paper, Towards a European Research Area, he criticised it for mentioning universities only once.

He also took issue with its idea of "centres of excellence". Who would decide which centres were excellent and what would happen to those that were not? he asked. He suggested networking between a number of institutions would be a better idea.

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