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Europe needs to close gap with United States
in top level research

European countries need more world-leading basic research teams to close the gap with the United States, according to a report published on the 25 March 2004 by the Royal Society, the UK national academy of science.

The report points out that the volume of basic research being carried out in Europe is similar to that of the United States, but that there is “probably a significant shortfall in overall quality and certainly a major shortfall in its overall impact”. This shortfall is “particularly noticeable in the standing of the highest quality research teams.”

The report calls for “the development and maintenance of more centres of research excellence in Europe that can compete at a world level” and indicates that there is a “potentially legitimate role for central European Union funding for this purpose”.

The Royal Society was responding to a report for the Council of Ministers in December 2003 by an expert group, which included Sir John Taylor, the former director general of UK research councils, recommending the establishment of a European Research Council within the next three years to manage a European Fund for Research Excellence.

Sir John Enderby, Vice-President of the Royal Society, said: “We are generally supportive of the idea of creating a European Research Council, but in order to have a beneficial impact, it must use excellence as the primary criterion for assessing research proposals. At present, much research funded centrally in Europe is devoted to specific themes and it is not clear if it is funded on the basis of its scientific quality.”

The Royal Society report stresses that funding through the proposed European Research Council must not reduce the support given to research through national governments, which should increase their investments. In order to have an impact, the European Research Council should be distributing funds of at least 1 billion Euros a year within five years of its creation.

Funding from the European Research Council must cover all areas, including the arts, social sciences and the humanities, as well as science, the Royal Society report states. In addition to funding projects, the European Research Council should provide long-term fellowships of at least five years for the best postdoctoral researchers.

If it is established, the European Research Council would need to be self-governing and focus initially on quickly gaining a reputation for supporting research excellence and operating cost-effectively. It should not take on other basic research components of the existing European Framework programme until it has gained credibility as a funding body.

The Royal Society report also warns that the creation of a European Research Council should not detract from efforts to boost innovation in European businesses, which lag behind their competitors in the United States. Young people need to regard business research as “a desirable career aspiration”.









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