U seeking scientists - Half a million more are needed by 2010 to meet research targets
If Europe is going to achieve its oft-repeated target of spending 3% of gross domestic project on research by 2010, it needs to recruit something like an additional 500,000 researchers. Achieving that sort of increase will require some serious efforts from all involved, a high-level group will tell the European Commission on Friday (April 2). The 3% target was set by political leaders 2 years ago at the European Union's Barcelona summit, following earlier discussions at the Lisbon summit of 2000. The human resources growth associated with that goal is in the order of 1.2 million staff, say former Portuguese science minister Jose Mariano Gago and other leading figures who have produced a report that will be presented to research commissioner Philippe Busquin at a meeting in Brussels. Europe is starting from a poor position in terms of science, engineering, and technology employment. Across the current 15-member European Union, the number of researchers per 1000 of the workforce is 5.7, a figure that drops to 3.5 for the 10 countries joining the bloc next month. For most of the European Union, growth in research jobs has outstripped overall employment groups in recent years, but when the Europe's position is compared with its big competitors, it becomes clear that something more than steady growth is needed, the high-level group reports. Japan, for example, employs 9.14 researchers per 1000 of the workforce, and the United States, 8.08.
Jean-Patrick Connerade, president of Euroscience, told The Scientist that the main problem was a discrepancy between what had been announced in Barcelona and Lisbon and what is actually being done. "It is a simple case of governments making rather empty promises about what they're going to do," he said.
Connerade made submissions to the working group on behalf of Euroscience and is due to attend tomorrow's meeting. The first area of concern, he said, is that young people were not coming forward en masse to train as researchers, largely because the jobs simply aren't there. The second is whether the education system in the European Union is able to deliver graduates in the sort of numbers needed in the time available. "I think the consensus on that is probably no," he said.
That leaves the European Union needing to recruit staff from outside its own borders, from Asia and elsewhere. For a region that talks so much and so often about brain drain, that seems like a big task.
But with the United States not looking quite as appealing to scientists as usual these days, because of ongoing restrictions on research, an opportunity may exist. "It's a matter of the EU organizing itself and making the opportunity available," Connerade said.
The EU group points out in its draft report: "As most of the employment for researchers is created by industry, better conditions for the development of research by the private sector have to be reinforced in Europe."
Just last week, EU heads of state again put their weight behind the idea of making Europe a better place for research based companies. This was welcomed by EuropaBio, the lobby group for Europe's biotech industry, which also called for words to be turned into action. "Radical measures are needed now to meet the Lisbon objectives," said Johan Vanhemelrijck, secretary general of EuropaBio, in a statement.

By Stephen Pincock
From The Scientist

Links for this article
M. Habeck, "More research for Europe," The Scientist, September 20, 2002.
Increasing Human Resources for Science and Technology in Europe, Brussels, Belgium, April 2, 2004
Jean-Patrick Connerade
M. Goozner, "US stem cell researchers chafe," The Scientist, December 5, 2003.
Brussels European Council, Presidency Conclusions, March 25-26, 2004.

1 April 2004