Report of the first "SLR Europe" meeting, Paris, 10 december 2005
le 21 December 2005
This meeting was organized at Institut Henri Poincaré, in Paris. It gathered participants from France, Italy, Spain, UK and Belgium.
The following topics have been discussed :
ERC (European Research Council),
European charter for researchers,
Situation of research and researchers in Italy, Spain and UK
What next ?
In what follows, when names are mentioned without additional information, it means that they correspond to members of "Sauvons la Recherche".
European Research Council
After a brief introduction by Alain Trautmann, Martin Andler presented the situation for the ERC. In the ensuing debate, important information was further provided by participants to the discussion. More information on the ERC can be found by visiting the web site http://europa.eu.int/comm/research/....
The Scientific Council of the ERC is now installed it is presided by Fotis Kafatos, a Greek immunogenetician working in London. The 22 members of this council have been selected by a group of 5 persons (presided by Lord Patten and including Catherine Brechignac), amongst 300 names suggested by different organizations. These members are likely to be named for 4 years, but this point is not definitive. The ERC will correspond to a specific program (IDEAS) within the FP7 (Seventh Framework Program).
Although it is now certain that the ERC will exist, what remains unclear is the amount of money that it will get and which legal form will be used. Initially, it was suggested that 3000 M€ would be appropriate. This amount then became 2000 M€, and now people generally envisage that ERC would get 1000 M€/year. If one considers that it would be ridiculous to provide small grants (insufficient for a project), and that when the rate of success to a grant application falls below 15%, the system no longer works since it becomes a lottery, 1000 M€/year is well below what is absolutely necessary for the ERC.
2006 will be a crucial year for the ERC. There are two (non exclusive) ways to think of an increase of its budget. One is to fight for an increase of the global budget of Europe This means that each one of us in his own country should say how important it is that the overall contribution is increased so as to succeed in having a European budget sufficient for the different political priorities, including research and support to the new members of the European Union.The second is to say that within the FP7, ERC should be considered as an absolute priority. In other words, if something has to be cut, it cannot be the ERC budget, but that of another program. One of them could be technology platforms ; the industrial lobby is very much interested in this type of investment that could be used for its own needs. This lobby will certainly consider that such these platforms are much more important that the ERC. If we have a different opinion, it is our responsibility to let it know, in particular to the members of the European Parliament.
In addition to the budget, there are other questions related to ERC, in particular how the Scientific Council will organize grant applications and their evaluation. There are web forums on which we have the possibility of giving our opinion. It is our common responsibility to use this possibility.
As will be mentioned in the conclusions, the question of the ERC may be the most important and urgent question on which European researchers should unite their efforts.
Charter for European Researchers
The situation has been presented by Claude Kordon (Euroscience), and Jasmin Buco (CJC and Eurodoc) and a discussion was lead with all the participants.
Claude Kordon explained the genesis of this text. In 1998, the workgroup “young researchers” of Euroscience made a report on working conditions and recruitment procedures. Several meetings were then organized with many associations for discussing on how to make a really attractive European research for researchers, with common rules in term of rights and duties, especially for short term contracts (not only for young researchers but for all researchers). This text was adopted by the commission in march 2005, as a simple recommendation and not as a directive.
Jasmin Buco made a presentation of the content of the charter from the point of view of young researchers working in France. Although this charter is only a recommendation, it may be used for comparing practices and for improving our labour conditions. The main idea is the recognition of researchers as professionals, early stage researchers (less than 4 years of experience in research and no doctoral degree) as well as experienced researchers (doctors and people without a doctoral degree but more that 4 years of experience in research). This implies correct salaries (which are not high enough for PhD candidates in France), with all social rights. The increase in the number of short term contracts without any visibility on the number of stable jobs is a problem with regards to charter recommendations, as well as our recruitment procedures (need for more transparency, better calendar, access to evaluation results etc.). Young researchers should not have a burden of administration and teaching duties, but all their tasks have to be taken into account for evaluation (including administration, valorisation, teaching etc.). The evaluation has to be taken into account for progression and changes in careers. In the discussion it was underlined that research should remain the dominant evaluation criterium, at least for young researchers, as it is the work they are recruited for (and this should be the case if they don’t have too much administration and teaching duties). It was also said that the problems are not coming only from governmental laws but also from our practices, some researchers acting like “small bosses”, and experienced researchers do not always consider young researchers as their colleagues.
Situation of research in Italy, Spain and UK
These different situations have been presented by Lia Forti and Federica Ferraris (RNRP - Rete Nazionale Ricercatori Precari, www.ricercatoriprecari.org) for Italy, Luis Santamaria (AACTE, Spanish Association for the Advancement of Science and Technology) for Spain, and Francis Vella (Eurodoc) for UK.
The three powerpoint presentations will be soon available for more details.
There is a striking difference between the situation in southern Europe and that of UK, in which research is one of the best in Europe (before France), despite the fact that its budget is not enormous. It has been severely cut under the Thatcher era, and it is now increasing very rapidly. This research is attractive, as judged by the fact that 40% of the PhD are delivered to non British people. During their PhD, the young investigators are better paid than in France (12000 € in 2002, 18000 € in 2005), with student social care but without pension rights and unemployment insurances.
In Italy and Spain, the situation is bad 1) because the different governments have not considered research as a priority, and the fraction of the PIB devoted to public research is below the European average 2) because the effort of R&D made by industries is also much too low, and 3) because -somehow in relation with the scarcity of means and jobs-, the behaviour of researchers that have the power (mainly professors) is often quite feudal, new positions being attributed not on the basis of quality but depending on the fidelity to the local Prince. As a result, many qualified young researchers look for positions abroad.
In Italy, where all these problems have been amplified by the Moratti law (Mrs Moratti is the present minister of Education, Research and University), there has been a huge demonstration in Rome on October 25, largely originating from the deep unsatisfaction of students joint with precarious researchers considering that the quality of the teaching is becoming too low and research opportunities too narrow.
In Spain, as shown in the Powerpoint presentation, the problems are numerous : funding in accordion, new possibilities of grants suddenly appearing, leaving a ridiculously short delay for applying, lack of proper evaluation at all stages (for new positions, for the activity of professors, after the end of contracts, etc...), lack of coherent and attractive carriers, etc... [many of these problems are encountered in France and Italy too...]
The association AACTE has already been acting in the direction of medias, of the population and of politicians. A few results have been obtained, such as the program Ramon y Cajal, or the establishment of a code of conduct for hiring practices (that remains to be adopted by universities).
What next ?
We have to take into account that there are already several organizations of European researchers, in particular :
Eurodoc, created in 2002, centered on the problems of young researchers. http://www.eurodoc.net/. President : Francis Vella.
ISE (Initiative for Science in Europe), created in 2004, in the wake of the ongoing debate regarding the establishment of ERC. http://www.initiative-science-europ.... Président : Julio Celis.
Euroscience, founded in 1997. http://www.euroscience.org President : Jean-Patrick Connerade.
See alos the more institutional network EuroHORCs, which is the association of the heads of public national research and research funding organisations in Europe. It stands for European Heads Of Research Councils, and was established in 1992 as an informal association of national research councils and analogous public non-university research organisations of the EU Member States. http://www.eurohorcs.org/.
If a network "SLR-Europe" is formed, it will not act in the ignorance of these existing organizations but rather work with them as often as possible. One specificity of this group is that the movement "Sauvons la Recherche" has attempted to cover the field of research as completely as possible (form the questions posed by young researchers to more institutional questions), has gained a certain visibility even outside France, and that its website is frequently visited. This visibility should now also be used for contributing to the improvement of European Research.
Based on this idea, it has been proposed that the website SLR could have a new, special section devoted to Europe. In this section, contributions would be in different languages, English being systematically one of them. These web pages 1) would be devoted to specific problems arising in the different countries, and 2) there would be a specific part devoted for Europe, and in particular for the ERC.
As mentioned above, this section should be functional very soon, first to improve, or reinforce the exchanges that already exist on sites such as Eurodoc, Euroscience, or ISE. In addition, one may think of preparing as soon as possible a European call for ERC, in which we would state why we think ERC is extremely important, and which budget would be necessary.
The SLR-Europe website would require the formation of a small committee for its administration and animation. Those ready to spend some time on it, please contact Alain Marty, Martin Andler (see below) and Bertrand Monthubert, the webmaster of SLR.
In addition it would be important that people meet physically, from time to time. The most realistic approach for the immediate future is to take advantage of the existence of meeting already organised, in particular:
19-20 January, in Mulhouse (France), meeting organized by ISE.
9-12 March 2006 in Bologna (Italy), meeting organized by Eurodoc
The 2nd EuroScience Open Forum (ESOF) will take place on July 15th-19th 2006 in Munich, Germany.
In conclusion of the day, the question of the organization of the future group "SLR Europe" was raised. It has been suggested that Alain Marty and Martin Andler, who have been very active in the organization of this first meeting, will work on this organization. Suggestions can be sent to them (firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com).
We do hope that the converging efforts of organizations such as Eurodoc, Euroscience, ISE and SLR-Europe, each one with its style and specificity, will contribute to build Europe, with the tools of research and higher education.