20 April 2010

Challenges Facing EU Commissioner for Research

The April issue of Public Service Review: Science and Technology features some interesting reflections on the challenges facing the EU’s new Commissioner for Research and Innovation, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn.

From an Irish perspective, the former TD’s appointment to one of the most strategically important roles in Europe is significant. According to José Manuel Barroso, the Commissioner’s main priority is to take ‘a decisive step forward’ in building the European Research Area (ERA). Specific actions which will contribute to this include, he said, ‘strengthening intra-EU cooperation, pooling human and financial resources across the EU, and promoting the fifth freedom – the free movement of knowledge, ideas and researchers’.

In the article, some leading European academics and scientist give their take on the challenges that lie ahead, focusing in particular on policy issues to do with education, funding, gender equality, security and developing excellence in research. Some of their comments merit reproduction here:

‘[Another challenge is in] striking a good balance between industrial and frontier research and favouring key pillars of the European Research Area such as mobility, international cooperation, research infrastructures and the European Research Council.’
Luc van Dyck, secretary of the Initiative for Science in Europe

The steps Europe needs to take to position itself as best in the world for research:
‘Identify what the best conditions are for top fundamental research; in terms of research, goals and projects, Europe should not so much follow the example of other regions in the world, but set its own standards and goals; Europe should actively scout for [Europeans who work abroad] and find out what it takes to get them back.’
Anton Zeilenger, Austrian Academy of Science

‘Europe needs to actively involve 700,000 additional researchers, among them many women scientists. This is not only a matter of justice … but it is also one of scientific quality.’
Mineke Bosch, University of Groningen

The concerns raised by our European counterparts will resonate with many in this country. Ireland has lofty ambitions to become a Silicon Valley of Europe and is firmly positioning its national identity as a knowledge-based economy. Much more work and investment is required to deliver on these goals. While progress has been made, documents such as the forthcoming Strategic Review of Higher Education will tell much about Irish HEIs’ role in building a European Research Area.

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