Author:
Andres Tennus

Researchers need Widening to offer more than just networking

Widening measures are used to be associated with helping eligible countries network with leading research institutions, learning from top scientists, gaining experience in call applications, running projects and attracting and retaining skilled staff. Instead of just networking and teambuilding, measures that aim to bridge Europe’s research gap must be used to fund scientific research itself. 


On June 5, 2024 Science Business published a viewpoint of Toivo Maimets, Professor of Cell Biology, University of Tartu on Widening measures which is partly referred below.  


In many Widening countries, researchers lack funding to build research labs and research groups. Even when young people wish to come back to their home country, there are not enough career possibilities. Horizon Europe and its successor, FP10, could help by offering more than just networking opportunities through Widening measures, such as grants to start small-scale collaborations. 

The Horizon Europe Work Programme 20232025 outlines Widening measures as essential for addressing the innovation divide and fostering a more integrated European Research and Innovation (R&I) system. According to the programme, ensuring excellence in R&I across Europe requires progress in every country and region. Despite increased funding and participation from Widening countries in recent years, the innovation gap continues to expand. This is largely because leading nations are advancing quicker than the rest, and disparities exist among the Widening countries themselves: emerging innovators are not catching up with the rest of the group.  

There is considerable talent in Widening countries that extends beyond merely needing "access to excellence." These individuals require opportunities to enhance their scientific performance, which in turn will fortify their institutions and nations. Empowering scientists to develop their capabilities as researchers and leaders is crucial. To fully leverage Europe's talent pool, we must provide these researchers with necessary resources and support.  

There is a lot of talent in the Widening countries. These talented individuals do not just need “access to excellence”, but the opportunity to improve their performance as scientists.

Toivo Maimets, Professor of Cell Biology

Another area where there is room to improve Widening measures is the speeding up of strategic change at national and institutional levels. To do this, Widening should be used to promote excellent research and innovation cooperation, be better connected to other parts of the framework research programme, and have co-financing from other sources, such as Cohesion policy funds. 

Looking ahead to FP10, set to commence in 2028, it is imperative that Widening measures continue. It is true that some Widening instruments have proven more effective than others, but there is still a clear need for EU level support to close the research and innovation gap and enhance cohesion across Europe. 


 

The discussion should not focus on excellence versus Widening. On the contrary, researchers from Widening countries that I work with through the Alliance4Life consortium or my colleagues from the Guild of European Research Intensive Universities agree that we need to defend the excellence principle in the EU’s framework programmes. 

Toivo Maimets, Professor of Cell Biology

In April 2023, the Alliance4Life’s survey on the use of Widening instruments in top EU-13 biomedical research institutes was published. The survey focuses on the Widening measures Twinning, Teaming, and ERA Chairs, examining their impact, challenges, and sustainability at national and European levels in twelve progressive life science institutions and universities from CEE countries. The positive impacts of Widening instruments included improved scientific cooperation, better grant writing skills and administrative capacity, increased mobility of researchers, the ability to attract top scientists from abroad, and changes to a more internationally open research culture. The survey proves that Widening measures are working but not as fast or not as well enough as expected by participating countries.  

For FP10, we must make sure the instruments are more focused and aligned with the needs of the Widening countries and the whole European Research Area. The population of EU-13 countries is approximately 103.7 million people, we cannot afford the potential of science to be underdeveloped in many parts of the EU and we must avoid a two-speed European science. 

Further information: European Innovation Scoreboard 2023 

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