European Research Area must focus on strengthening research excellence across Europe as a whole

The Guild calls for the new European Research Area (ERA) to develop and implement a holistic vision to strengthen and deepen excellence in less R&I performing (Widening) countries.

Ahead of the Competitiveness Council meeting of 26 November, where research ministers are expected to adopt conclusions on the ERA governance and the Council recommendation on a pact for R&I in Europe, The Guild highlights the importance of including meaningful initiatives in the first ERA Policy Agenda that aim to improve access to excellence and to strengthen the excellence of European science overall.

Whilst a focus on excellence will essentially foster excellent research at Europe’s leading institutions, we should also ensure that the research capacities across all regions are boosted. ERA must enable and encourage researchers from universities in less performing countries to succeed. The Guild calls for a clearer articulation of Widening objectives, and how different instruments relate to each other. It is time to define an overall vision that is bigger than the sum of its parts.

Moreover, The Guild calls for a consideration of the Widening perspective in all ERA policy priorities to ensure there are no unintended adverse consequences for R&I systems in less R&I performing countries.

The Guild suggests to the ERA Forum to complement the ERA actions proposed by the Council with the following recommendations:

• A dedicated sub-group under the ERA Forum should design and monitor the fit-for-purpose measures in ERA and Horizon Europe for researchers and institutions from Widening countries
• To develop guidelines for enhanced synergies between EU’s funding programmes and national and regional funding schemes
• To provide dedicated support to young researchers in developing outstanding research proposals and encourage more coordinator roles in Horizon Europe bids.

Jan Palmowski, Secretary-General to The Guild, commented: “A successful European Research Area must strengthen Europe’s universities and other research and innovation actors in a global context, but it must focus equally on narrowing the R&I divide within Europe. Both objectives are essential for the long-term resilience of Europe’s research and innovation sector.”

Head of the University of Tartu Grant Office Taivo Raud pointed out that, in developing the European Research Area, more attention should be paid to raising the level of research in Eastern European countries to achieve a better balance in Europe as a whole. “Investment in research infrastructure has been indispensable, but we need more funding for (young) researchers and for research itself to be more competitive and avoid brain drain to Western Europe. Horizon Europe has the so-called widening actions that Estonia and the UT have benefited from, but we want to increase our participation also in other sub-programmes of Horizon Europe,” Raud explained.

According to Raud, to use the funding from the European Structural Funds and Horizon Europe together, their objectives and conditions (e.g. regarding supporting the Teaming Centres of Excellence) must to be compatible. “However, we see that the Structural Funds of the new period focus on business cooperation and knowledge transfer, not on basic research or supporting academic research. Therefore, we wish that the grants of Structural Funds in the field of research and development support the achievement of the objectives of the European Research Area to help Eastern European research systems catch up with the rest of Europe and contribute to increasing their attractiveness,” he said.

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