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Putting human resources at the heart of the ERA

By Redazione

Mobility, recruitment, gender, social security and the Charter and Code of Conduct were just some of the topics highlighted by the ERA (European Research Area) Expert Group on Researchers,
which presented its interim findings at the conference on the future of science and technology in Europe in Lisbon, Portugal.

Following the publication of the Green Paper on the ERA, the Commission appointed a number of expert groups to look into specific aspects of the ERA in more detail. The ‘Researchers’ group is
chaired by Alex Quintanilha of the Institute for Molecular and Cell Biology in Porto, Portugal. The Green Paper consultation reveals that many stakeholders view a systematic approach to human
resources as vital to the success of the ERA.

On recruitment and early career structures, the group criticises the fact that all too often academic research positions are not properly advertised and are earmarked for national or even
internal staff.

‘The advertising of positions has to be mandatory,’ said Professor Quintanilha. Furthermore, the group recommends that the entire recruitment process be as transparent as possible, with jobs
advertised well in advance, together with their selection criteria. CVs of both the evaluation board members and candidates should also be made available.

Koen Van Dam, President of the European Council of Doctoral Candidates and Young Researchers (EURODOC) added in his paper on the interim findings that these criteria should also apply to
doctoral positions. Mr Van Dam also called for an improvement in working conditions for those working towards their PhD. ‘Research is a job at all stages, including the doctoral phase,’ he
said, adding that salaries and social security benefits should reflect this fact.

A major barrier to mobility in Europe is insecurity regarding the transferability of social security and pension rights. Some 53% of respondents to the Commission’s wider consultation on the
ERA also called for a new European legal framework, providing common rules adapted to highly mobile workers. In their interim report, the Expert Group calls for the Commission and Member States
to ensure greater coordination of social security systems.

Making the ERA more attractive for women is also identified as a priority. The group identifies the selection and hiring procedures at universities and research institutions, as well as the
‘not so women-friendly culture’ in these organisations, as two of the main obstacles preventing more women from getting into scientific careers.

‘Policy-makers should take positive and urgent actions for promoting gender representation among all (selection) committees, boards and governing bodies of research institutions, setting this
as a criterion for eligibility for funding at various levels,’ the Expert Group writes. They also suggest that a certain proportion of Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) funds be set aside for
women-led research, while maintaining scientific excellence as the basic criterion for funding.

The Expert Group notes that many of the issues identified during the course of its work could be tackled by applying the Charter for Researchers and the Code of Conduct for the Recruitment of
Researchers (C&C) principles, first drafted in 2005. However, awareness of the C&C is low among both senior and more junior scientists.

The group urges the Commission to promote knowledge and awareness of the C&C, and calls on funding agencies to adopt the C&C principles concerning mobility, recruitment, working
conditions and social security in all their grant terms and conditions.

‘To implement the C&C principles is an ambitious objective and ambitions should always be matched with resources. Political will and commitment could be boosted by a label/signet awarded to
institutions committed to the application of C&C principles,’ the group suggests.

Professor Quintanilha emphasised the fact that the paper presented in Lisbon is very much a working document, and a new version of the paper will be released towards the end of the year.

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