DAY 2 (27 October 2021) - Stakeholders’ Workshop
Breakout session 2: ERA for prospective careers
Prospective scientific careers through enhanced high-quality working conditions and possibilities for reintegration into their matrix research environment, institutions and research systems
European societies, including their sub-systems, are undergoing fast transformations, some of them have even been accelerated by the current COVID-19 pandemic. Research and innovation play an important part in these transformations. Moreover, research and innovation are becoming more and more indispensable in the implementation of many policies, from climate to education, enabling new solutions to new challenges.
This is reflected in the process of the transformation of the European Research Area (ERA) with the goal to meet new demands and opportunities, including closer multi-level cooperation that can lead to the free circulation of researchers, scientific knowledge and technology in Europe.
Free circulation of researchers is one of the pillars of the ERA. In order to harness researchers’ full potential, and for the ERA to become inclusive and a globally attractive centre of excellence, Member States together with the European Commission should strive to achieve balanced brain circulation. Unfortunately, unbalanced brain circulation still represents a major challenge and contributes to the research and innovation divide within the EU, as noted by the Council Conclusions on the New European Research Area.1 Therefore, this breakout session would like to address the existing barriers to unbalanced mobility patterns by discussing what support is needed for researchers’ career development within the ERA, and how best to connect researchers and institutions through improving employability, talent absorption and mobility schemes.
In this regard the Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the EU is continuing, and complementing, the work initiated by the previous Presidencies, especially the Croatian and Portuguese Presidencies. It is our objective to develop further the proposed actions in the Zagreb Call for Action on Brain Circulation 20202 and the Portuguese Council Conclusions on Deepening the European Research Area: Providing researchers with attractive and sustainable careers and working conditions and making brain circulation a reality3. To achieve this objective, we are going to discuss with stakeholders their views on the process of advancing and deepening the new ERA, embedding the stakeholder viewpoint in the new ERA.
In the past, considerable progress has been made in removing geographical and systemic barriers to the mobility of researchers and highlighting the importance of research careers in Europe. This has been achieved mainly through the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) and in partnership with the EU Member States as well as with the Associated Countries and other stakeholders. The main objectives of the Horizon 2020 programme and of the prior two framework programmes (the 6th and the 7th Framework Programmes) were aiming at strengthening human potential in science qualitatively as well as quantitatively through mobility - the focus has always been on individual researchers and on the out-going phases of their mobility. However, indicators regarding science quality and innovation activity show significant discrepancies within the EU according to the Commission Communication A New ERA for Research and Innovation . It should be recognized that besides the urgent need for international mobility with no barriers, the need for good reintegration opportunities is an integral part of the mobility process. Good working conditions and job security are important elements in deepening the ERA. To attract, develop and retain researcher talents, measures and efforts are needed for improved working conditions and employment opportunities enabling the reintegration of researchers at national levels. These activities should be supported by EU actions, complemented by national efforts/measures from EU Member States and Associated Countries, and with significant engagement of other relevant stakeholders in fields of research. Stronger, more structured links are required between researchers and their respective institutional backgrounds. Only through discussion with the stakeholders impacted can we ensure these measures are successful.
Mobility flows are also strongly linked to working conditions such as accessibility to the latest research infrastructure and possibilities for career progression and fair remuneration, which crucially impact early stage research career development. Therefore, to avoid an increasing divide among parts of Europe targeted measures at Member State level should be complemented by measures using structural funds and other EU funding instruments. These measures should address reintegration as an integral part of balanced brain circulation, where reintegration means enabling outgoing researchers to return and continue their research careers at home, as well as establishing long-term cooperation between institutions of the country of origin with an outgoing researcher abroad. This topic will be elaborated further during the Slovenian Presidency MSCA conference in November 2021.
Even though we are still assessing the impact of COVID-19 on research careers and mobility, we can already estimate that early career researchers were more severely affected, among them especially women. On the other hand, virtual mobility has gained momentum and is offering an interesting approach to mobility, which could help to widen mobility across Europe. Virtual mobility could contribute to more balanced brain circulation and support particularly lower performing countries to participate in knowledge circulation. Additionally, it can also provide more family friendly conditions and hence help reduce inequalities in accessing mobility opportunities, building off the Ljubljana Declaration on Gender Equality in Research and Innovation. We believe it is worth further exploring this opportunity and integrating it, as appropriate, into existing programmes and measures on the national and EU level. To have its proper role virtual mobility needs to be recognised in the research assessment system.
The European Charter and Code for Researchers have played their roles and encouraged research institutions in Europe to take an active approach in making research careers more attractive and inclusive. The process of making careers more attractive and inclusive strengthens human resources strategies and empowers young researchers by providing them with improved career pathways. We believe that the renewed Charter and Code have to be aligned with the deepening of the new ERA takin into account also the objective of making brain circulation a reality, by offering revised guidelines for institutions to engage in this process. The stakeholder perspective is necessary to ensure the Charter and Code are fit for purpose. Furthermore, the need for monitoring progress at national and EU levels should be addressed. It may be appropriate to conduct this process in synergy with the European Higher Education Area (EHEA).
Questions for discussion:
- With respect to human resources, MSCA has established high mobility standards with impact on national levels. In what ways could the EU support national measures for a balanced brain circulation, which includes reintegration defined as a return to home country, as well as establishing strong cooperation with institutions in home country? e.g. through Horizon Europe especially with programmes MSCA and Widening participation and strengthening the ERA, European Cooperation in Science and Technology (COST), EURAXESS or its successor ERA Talent Platform.
- During the COVID-19 pandemic research was affected, with the mobility of researchers most severely impacted. On the other hand, it accelerated the professional use of digital tools and services. How do you see the role of virtual mobility as means to widen the mobility processes and to make them more equally accessible making brain circulation a reality and at the same time offering family-friendly conditions when needed? And, how to recognise it in the research assessment systems?
- The European Charter and Code for Researchers have played important roles in strengthening human resources strategies at research institutions, making research careers more attractive and inclusive, especially for early-stage researchers. In what way the revised Charter and Code should be broadened to support a more balanced brain circulation, as well as addressing updated research assessment practices and other challenges of the new ERA?
RESULTS OF DISCUSSION
During the discussion the moderators and their rapporteurs will extract relevant policy recommendations with the participants. The recommendations formulated by the break-out session rapporteurs will be consolidated and presented as a conference outcome.
AMENDMENT, 30 September 2021
Due to the consultation process led in September within the enlarged Working Group for preparation of the ERA Conference and the break-out session 2, we are amending the background document for the session, with the aim to put forward some items of explanatory information on the issues for discussion at the session.
Mobility of researchers has always been the most important standard in the process for building high quality human resources in ERA and it remains a key concern when creating European as well as national policy measures to support a balanced brain circulation. Cooperation of all the stakeholders (EU institutions, national governments, research and innovation institutions) is of extreme importance. Numerous barriers have already been removed, yet, the working and employment conditions for researchers have changed in the past few years and further efforts are needed to set into implementation relevant measures that would contribute to rewarding and smooth career paths for researchers. The existing regulation at the EU level and at national levels needs to keep abreast with the changing living and working conditions, the awareness raising of the needs for change should address not only individual researchers but also all the institutional structures that perform the research environment.
The research field has been severely affected by the pandemic situation, virtual mobility and accelerated use of digital tools gained new roles and importance. It would be worth to consider whether some new aspects of mobility, including the virtual mobility, could find appropriate place among the measures for building prospective scientific careers.
The Code and the Charter are important documents at EU level, they moderated many national measures for making research careers more attractive. A discussion on further steps to ameliorate and revise the existing strategic approaches should start, as indicated in the Question 3 of the background document, and explore the ways in which individual stakeholders, the employing institutions among them, could contribute to strengthening of human resources in science and attract young people to decide on scientific careers. Efficient mechanisms for reintegration of researchers into their matrix environment should be also one of the issues for discussion how to make brain circulation a reality.