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March 27, 2014

EU, science and gender: The BBC’s chatter ill serves its listeners

by Inga Vesper

BBC science interviewers sometimes do get over-excited when the person on the other microphone is a woman. Indeed “expert” interviewees from the “other” gender are a rare sight on BBC programmes more generally. In four years worth of programmes on BBC Question Time, only 98 of the 362 panellists were women.

When you combine a woman who is also a senior scientist with that other legendary beast, the EU, it makes for cringeworthy listening. This was the case with University of Surrey professor Jim al-Khalili’s interview on The Life Scientific with Anne Glover, chief scientific adviser to the president of the European Commission—José Manuel Barroso. Though I wonder why Barroso’s name was never mentioned in the programme.

Glover has occupied this high profile and controversial post for four years, so you would think the interviewer would have plenty of material to talk about: how Europe struggles to create a joined-up scientific community; how Glover assesses her ability to influence EU politicians and her tireless efforts to create a network of national advisers, which is slowly starting to take off. Glover is also a vocal and passionate advocate of genetically modified technology.

The Life Scientific is meant to be as much about the person as his or her work, but Glover's deep-rooted passion for science could have been well explored by asking these questions. The fact that she won’t be continuing this role after May’s European elections could have provided space to ask these and other critical questions about her work. Has she really increased the profile of European science? Is there any lasting legacy, considering that the post may not be renewed under the next president?

But if you were looking for sharp insights, The Life Scientific was the wrong place. Instead the programme’s production team treats listeners to patronising anecdotes of Glover’s childhood (“Your parents must have supported you, right?”), interspersed with phone-ins from Glover’s colleagues, who gush over how fantastic she is, doing sciencey things that have to do with sparkly molecules.

al-Khalili calls Glover “the most influential scientist in Europe”, which even Glover would probably contest. “How do you get anything done in Europe,” he wonders, and the listener wonders, too. He was referring to the EU, of course and not “Europe”, which is a continent of 750 million people, and not the 500 million that we heard. In the same vein, al-Khalili asked Glover about how she copes with different stances on nuclear power in Germany and France. He ought to have known (or been briefed) that national policies are not her remit, nor are they the EU’s.

Barely troubled by al-Khalili’s questions, Glover sailed through it all. It was an easy interview for her, an occasion to repeat her well-worn, but still important, arguments for science, without having to justify or explain too much.

Underlying this interview was a whiff of disbelief that Glover had gone to work for the EU at all. Her continuous record of laboratory work at the University of Aberdeen was mentioned as if it were some sort of insurance for Glover to, one day, return to the safety of home, and not the perfectly normal arrangement for a scientific adviser, which is what it is.

The BBC might think that being lightweight about the EU and its work is en vogue in these increasingly Eurosceptic times for the UK. But in this instance it turned what could have otherwise been an engaging and insightful interview into shallow chatter.

Inga Vesper is news editor of Research Europe. Follow us on @ResearchEurope

December 11, 2013

Horizon 2020 - Calls Day Live Blog

by Inga Vesper

Welcome to our Horizon 2020 Calls Day live blog. We'll bring you the latest news on calls and funding, plus reaction and analysis, thoughout the day. All times are UK local.

For more in-depth analysis check out our summary of all Horizon 2020 Work Programmes

Please refresh this page regularly to see the latest entries. And do check us out on Twitter—@ResearchEurope. Enjoy!

15:41 - A word of warning on the deadlines included in the call summaries on the participant portal: don’t take them as guaranteed. Several of the calls have more than one round of funding, and for these the Commission has only listed the latest cut off dates. Ones we have spotted already under pillar one are the ERC Proof of Concept grants, and the FET Open calls. So make sure you check the call details (or our database, of course) carefully: there may be a chance to get your proposal evaluated and get some money sooner than you think! 

14:23 - Daan du Toit, South Africa’s science and technology representative to the EU, has expressed his congratulations on Horizon 2020 call launch on Twitter, writing that “South Africa looks forward to research innovation partnerships with Europe”. South Africa will be one of many countries looking to tap into this new source of research income, the rules of which will be governed by the Commission’s internationalisation strategy for Horizon 2020 (full blown pdf version here). The basic jist is that H2020 is fully open to participation from researchers anywhere, but only certain groups can automatically receive funding. Aside from member states and associated countries, this is limited to International Cooperation Partner countries (less developed economies)—and importantly, this classification has been changed from Framework 7 to exclude emerging economies like Brazil, India, and China, which will now be expected to pay their own way. Exceptions are when the EU has specific reciprocal agreements to provide funding (like it does with the US), or if a country's participation is deemed to be crucial to the success of the project. 

14:01 - Cost, the European cooperation in science and technology, has branded the call launch an “essential milestone” in making Europe more innovative and competitive. In a statement just published, the organisation highlights its own role under Horizon 2020 in continuing to encourage coordination between researchers in different countries. This has involved a change in legal structure for the organisation, to help it function better under Horizon 2020. The organisation will mostly be funded through the sixth societal challenge—inclusive, innovative and secure societies.  

14:00 -  This is Laura, taking over the blogging for the rest of the day!

13.41 - Cefic, the lobby group for the chemicals industry, has issued a statement welcoming Horizon 2020. The programme's focus on industry and applied spending suits chemicals businesses well, said Cefic director for research Gernot Klotz. He added that EU funding, especially grants and loans to small businesses, are important in the face of "fierce" international competition. 

13.14 - Our funding opportunities team has uploaded the first batch of Horizon 2020 calls. These should appear in our database within the hour. 

12.55 - The Smart Cites initiative is apparently generating some buzz. There's €92 million in Horizon 2020 in 2014 for this programme, which aims to boost citizen involvement in innovation. However, the idea came under fire during a conference last month, when scientists said they are tired of large-scale pilot programmes on this, and would like more substantial and long-term funding to get on with the task at hand.

12.37 - Statement comes out on Marie Sklodowska-Curie actions. There's €800 million in 2014. The total budget, about €6 billion, is expected to fund about 65,000 researcher exchanges, the Commission says. Marie Sklodowska-Curie actions were supported strongly by researchers, who worried that they might lose funding to the more dominant ERC, as both programmes are in the excellent science pillar. The programme is certainly one of the most-loved parts of the Framework programme, and some participants welcomed the addition of Curie's maiden name to the title. 

12.19 - Commission issues statement on transport funding, which mentioned Shift2Rail, the planned Joint Technology Initiative for a pan-European railway network. Transport will get a total of €6.3 billion under Horizon 2020, which is about 8 per cent of the total budget. About €1.9bn comes from DG Transport, which will be involved in several of the calls. 

12.04 - Quick summary of research commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn's launch speech. She says Europe badly needs new ideas, and that the calls represent the EU asking directly for these ideas. The three pillars are the mainstay, but there is plenty of funding for cross-cutting issues, such as gender, climate change, ect. "We are defining the problem, but we are asking the participants to find the best solution to get the job done," Geoghegan-Quinn said.

Questions were asked about SME participation, stem cell science and brain drain. SME participation target under Horizon 2020 is up to 20 per cent, and Geoghegan-Quinn is positive that this will be met. The applied science focus of Horizon 2020 came under fire, though, with one Twitter user calling it the "bullshit bingo". But Geoghegan-Quinn stayed firm, saying it was the way to go. "I've been to seven launch events, and attendants included a strong segment of industry who want to be involved," she said. "I guess Horizon 2020 will be oversubscribed."

11.27 - Máire Geoghegan-Quinn is to give launch speech on Horizon 2020 at EU-midday briefing in a few minutes. Watch here. Ongoing briefing on Ukraine might overrun a bit, though.

11.20 - Commission press statement on Horizon 2020 is out, summarising the EU's favourite parts of the programme. "Horizon 2020 funding is vital for the future of research and innovation in Europe, and will contribute to growth, jobs and a better quality of life," says research commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn. There's €15 billion in total for 2014-2015, including €1.7bn for the ERC, €1.8bn for industrial leadership and €2.8bn for societal challenges. A press briefing is scheduled for 12.30 CET. 

11.04 - G8 Dementia summit has kicked off in London, with German health minister Daniel Bahr calling it the biggest problem facing western societies in the near future. Meanwhile, the Innovative Medicines Initiative has launched its last Framework 7 call, on clinical trials for Alzheimer's disease, worth (€53 million). Under the health societal challenge in Horizon 2020 there is a pot awarding €5 million each for projects that align research into dementia and brain diseases across Europe (HCO-11). The overall funding pot for health is about €7.5 billion over the duration of Horizon 2020.

10.34 - Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen, a spokeswoman for the European Commission, is interviewed on Vieuws. She says that the WASTE programme in Horizon 2020, which is to get €100 million over the next two years, could create up to 400,000 jobs. The energy saving programme, down for €200 million in the same time frame, could create 250,000 jobs. "We need to get cracking and get those projects going," she says. Watch the full interview here

9.58 - The European Commission has published a flyer on ICT-enabled public innovation, providing nformation on funding opportunities under societal challenge 6 and 7—inclusive and secure societies—for ICT infrastructures that could improve governance. This includes funding for emerging technologies, open participation in governance, mobile public services, and funding for privacy research under secure societies, for which there will be €47 million in 2014.

9.40 - Whilst celebrating Horizon 2020, spare a thought for our friend of seven years Framework 7. Manfred Horvat of the Vienna University of Technology has written an in-depth analysis of the outgoing Framework programme for us, saying that through Framework 7 "innumerable collaborative links have been built, strengthening and tightening the connections in the fabric of European R&D."

9.17 - Impressions on Horizon 2020 from EUREC's Greg Arrowsmith: In an article written earlier, he remarks on the strengthened position of energy research in this Framework programme, and says that a hike in funding will support Europe in achieving the 20-20-20 target of reducing emissions by 20 per cent by 2020, compared to 1990 levels. Arrowsmith, however, is critical of the more open concept of Horizon 2020, saying that this could lead to a diffusion of goals and a too-wide approach to solving societal problems. "Unless the Commission takes action, the stakeholders who do the writing (often volunteers) will lose motivation," Arrowsmith warns. Read the full comment here

8.55 - Research commmissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn will hold a briefing on the Horizon 2020 calls at 12.30 CET. We'll be there to tell you what she's got to say.

8.30 - Good morning! We've kicked off the day to the news that the Commision's participant portal is still empty - fortunately we've obtained all the calls info from other sources, so our funding team is already busy filling out the database to bring you the latest calls. Meanwhile, a screenshot for posterity:

Screen Shot 2013-12-11 at 08.33.06

December 10, 2013

Horizon 2020 Work Programme Summaries

by Inga Vesper

Dear readers,

to help you get on top of the Horizon 2020 Work Programmes, Laura Greenhalgh and Inga Vesper have prepared a list of handy summaries. These include details about call topics and budgets, as well as some analysis on recent trends and future prognoses for scientific fields covered by these programmes.

You'll find all summaries here.

Enjoy the read!

October 25, 2012

A just reward

by Inga Vesper

This editorial first appeared in Research Europe 352, 25.10.12.

The EU’s Nobel peace prize couldn’t be more timely

Much ridicule has been poured onto the collective heads of the Norwegian Nobel committee for its decision on 12 October to award the 2012 Nobel peace prize to the EU. But it is the detractors of the award who are making themselves look ridiculous.

The award is in fact timely. In the face of the great difficulties now facing the Eurozone, the lessons of the past are at risk of being forgotten. The EU richly deserves this prize for one, overarching achievement alone: for excising the ghosts of 20th-century Europe and rendering war between France and Germany unthinkable.

Those who ridicule the award point to recent demonstrations in Athens and Madrid as evidence for their position, but they seem to hold a peculiarly myopic view of recent history. It almost beggars belief to compare a few violent protests with tens of millions of deaths in two world wars.

At least people in the rest of the world are aware of the EU’s achievements. On page 8 of this issue, we report on the tentative moves being made by Japan to build multilateral scientific collaboration with its neighbours. Europeans may sometimes express frustration, but compared with, say, Asia or Latin America, European research has already achieved a remarkable degree of communication and common purpose.

The Nobel peace prize comes at a time when the very concept of the EU is under concerted political attack, not just from the extremes of left and right but from centrist politicians who ought to know better, such as UK Prime Minister David Cameron. Earlier this week, Cameron got into a fight with his only remaining possible best friend, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, after issuing a churlish threat to veto the EU budget for 2014-20.

Only days before, he suggested the EU saved money by thinning out its most experienced officials. And remarkably, he lectured the European Commission’s small administrative staff by referring to the UK example: “16 per cent of employees in the Commission earn over €100,000. What we have done in Britain is crack down on central administration, on costs and on the numbers of people employed, to release money for things that are more important.” But two weeks earlier, the costs of this thinning process was amply demonstrated. A multi-billion-pound bidding process for Britain’s railway system collapsed, after it emerged that the civil servants had made a hash of the figures. The scandal was a crushing indictment of what has befallen the once-proud UK civil service.

One of the lamest criticisms of the peace award is that the EU will struggle to agree who should collect it. But decisions arrived at by consensus are part of the very strength of a union—a fact that Cameron, now head of a coalition government, well knows.

Criticising the Nobel peace prize is nothing new. The prize was famously attacked when Henry Kissinger got it in 1973. And more recently, the award to President Obama was premature. However, the 2012 prize reflects well on the Norwegian Nobel committee­—and on everyone who, during the past half-century, has worked to build a Europe that is safer and more peaceful than any sane observer of the half-century before that could ever have thought possible.

December 01, 2011

"We are happy" - Horizon 2020 reactions

by Inga Vesper

Research Europe has done a round-up of the first reactions to the European Commission's proposal for the next multianuual research funding framework programme. Click on the titles if you'd like to read for yourself. 


Gernot Klotz, European Technology Platform for Sustainable Chemistry:

 “Horizon 2020 has a focus on output rather than being over prescriptive. We support the use of bridging actions to coordinate programmes and the inclusion of pilot plant and scale-up activities that are vital to moving ideas into the market quickly.”


European Factories of the Future Research Association:

“The budget for the ‘Factories of the Future’ PPP has not been allocated yet. Considering that in ‘Factories of the Future’ PPP was funded by both the NMP and the ICT programmes, it is promising to see that for Horizon 2020 the NMP budget will receive €4,3 billion (which is an increase by 23%), while the ICT budget will receive €9 billion Euros. It can therefore be expected that the ‘Factories of the Future’ PPP budget in Horizon 2020 will rise considerably as of the year 2014.”


Nathalie Moll, EuropaBio:

“To stay at the forefront of global competition and to meet the societal challenges of healthy ageing, sustainable agriculture and the bio-based economy, the Commission has listed biotechnology as one of the six key areas that research and innovation funding should focus on. Research and innovation coupled with coherent and workable legislation will ensure Europe and its innovative industries such as biotechnology strive for the enhancement of quality of life, knowledge, innovation, job creation and productivity that we so clearly need.”


Peter Koren, Austrian Industry Association (IV):

“The new direction of Horizon 2020 towards innovation and applied research corresponds to the demands of Austria’s industry. Industry needs to take the lead in taking Europe forward in top-level research. We are happy to see that the Commission is recognising this in the proposal.”


Reinhard Bütikofer, The Greens:

“The apparent reduction in funding for SMEs is a cause for concern however. Funds directly earmarked for activities related to SMEs have been reduced by 50% under Horizon 2020. Even if Horizon 2020 succeeds in its pledge to allocate at least 15% of its "Industrial leadership" and "Societal challenges" funds to SMEs, this could result in an overall reduction of funds for SMEs compared to the past framework which is unacceptable considering the role of SMEs in the European economy.”


Pilar Del Castillo Vera, European People’s Party:

"The Horizon 2020 Programme will constitute a crucial instrument in order to stimulate our economy and boost Europe's industrial competitiveness. It is a good idea to put together all the EU research and innovation funding under a single programme. The EPP Group has been always committed, through the simplification of rules and procedures to drastically cut the current existing red tape, and attract the broadest range of innovative business.”


League of European Research Universities:

“With regard to the Rules for Participation, LERU is pleased to see that the model, which has proven to be very successful for the ERC grants, will now be used for almost all H2020 research projects. A reimbursement of a 100% of direct costs will mean a true simplification for the participants, not only for the administrators handling the budget, but also, and very importantly, for the principal investigators. The new rules should enable universities to recruit staff specifically to work on H2020 projects and thus enhance and build up the next generation of researchers in Europe. LERU does regret that cost declaration through full costing will not be possible anymore as a number of universities haveput a lot of effort in moving to full costing.”


November 30, 2011

ERC success rewarded with funding boost proposal

by Inga Vesper

The European Research Council is Framework 7’s ultimate success story. No other programme has created so much prestige for European Commission funding, and has inspired so many individual scientists to take part in the Framework Programme. The ERC, which has two funding streams for early-career and advanced excellent researchers, has, since 2007, funded over 2,200 researchers.

All this, including the creation of the organisation from scratch and the establishment of an independent assessment operation, has been achieved with “only” €7.5 billion in Framework 7. Now, with the Horizon 2020 proposal for the next Framework Programme, the ERC has received the Commission’s knighthood honours.

The proposal would bring the institutions budget up to nearly €15bn euros for 2014-2020. This increase is among the largest for Commission projects carried over from Framework 7 to Horizon 2020 – only the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, whose budget is going up from €300 million to a proposed €3bn, has a higher increase.

There is one specific point to this increase. Europe’s cash-strapped member states are reluctant to raise Horizon 2020’s budget to €80bn, the Commission’s proposal. By giving such a large increase to such a prestigious programme the Commission is trying to make it harder for the member states to cut the proposed overall budget. After all, who can say “No” to the ERC?

But the ERC is also one of the few solid rocks in a Framework Programme proposal that has changed much from its predecessors. Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, the research commissioner, has taken it upon herself to revamp the programme from the core. Instead of Framework 7’s lofty “ideas”, “people” and “capacities” programmes, Horizon 2020 has more straightforward budgets for “grand challenges”, “industrial leadership” and “excellence”, where the ERC is now housed.

But with increased funding come increased responsibilities. The ERC’s latest project, a third funding stream called “consolidating grants” has not only received praise from the research community. The consolidating grants are supposed to provide funding for excellent researchers that fall between the “early-career” and “advanced” labels. However, some scientists fear this is a step towards watering down the ERC’s successful programmes.

The ERC has also been plagued by governance woes. The institution became independent from the European Commission in 2009, the same year an external review of the programme recommended merging the institution’s general secretary and director roles. But recruitment for the new position, which began before the governance change was fully developed, was abandoned when senior ERC executives decided, rightly, to finish the job of restructuring before recruiting for a new role.

However, the process was  reported to the European Commission ombudsman by one of the candidates, and the ERC found that it had some serious explaining to do. The creation of the position was postponed, and Donald Dingwell, a volcanologist, is now filling the secretary general role until January 2014, when the ERC’s restructuring process should be completed.

Nevertheless, the proposed funding increase for the ERC is a sign of trust by the Commission, and a reward for a job well done. Over the past years the ERC has carved out a role for itself from what some viewed as a second class funding agency that financed those too bad for national money to a world-class, top-of-the-range institution that is overwhelmed with applications every time it opens a new call.

Researchers across Europe will be welcoming the proposal to grow and boost an agency that has changed the lives and careers of so many. One can only wish it the support of member states and Parliament, and the utmost success for the future.

November 09, 2011

Research Globalisation Live Blog

by Inga Vesper

Session 3: Intercontinental partnerships - building a track record of success.

Speakers for this session are Alan Langlands, chief executive at HEFCE, Howard Newby, vice-chancellor of the University of Liverpool, and Pramath Sinha, director of the International Foundation for Research and Education, India. The session is chaired by Richard Daniel, environment reporter at the BBC.

Please refresh for updates and read from the bottom up.

Alan Langlands, our first speaker, says disproportionally high amount of REF funding will go to those who are internationally competitive. He adds that governments must sustain balance between curiosity-driven research and research targeted on national priorities. The grand challenges must be tackled, but UK strengths in basic research must be protected.

Next up is Howard Newby, who will talk about how international collaboration can be made to pay off. Newby's university, the University of Liverpool, works closely with the Xi'an Jiaotong University in China. For Liverpool the collaboration provides an opportunity to be present in emerging markets and access untapped research opportunities. For the Chinese partner institution the collaboration means access to new knowledge and "upskilling" for present staff. Newby says this also helps international partners to counter brain-drain.

The UK's current HE system, he says, offers too many incentives to move activity offshore, as through overseas campuses. These include avoiding visa problems and mitigating the administrative burden. This is good for Liverpool but bad for UK Plc.

Newby staves off worries about Chinese interference. Never in the history of the collaboration has the Chinese government tried to interfere with the partnership's projects and curricula, he says.

Newby says Liverpool tries to convince Chinese students not to spend all time of their course in Liverpool, which is very attractive to them. At present they have just under 5,000 students in China and 1,000 in Liverpool on the programme. He says it is a problem to give these students a high-quality English education experience, and not let them spend four years surrounded by their friends.

Lessons learned: You have to be in this for the long-term, there is no quick money to be had. Language is not so much a problem, but intercultural communication is. It is important to lay groundwork in own organisation, to take the risk and prepare staff for what is to come.

Our last speaker is Pramath Sinha. He says India harbours huge opportunities, but it is not all in research. Those serious about collaboration have to engage in teaching as well. Teaching is the country's greatest challenge. There is a huge opportunity for surplus teaching, which will eventually trickle down into research.

At Sinha's institutions there are no more departments. The real research nowadays happens at the fringes of departments and inderdisciplinary, so you might as well do away with them, he says. Instead they have a bunch of partner institutions and "mental leaders" for their scientists and students.

India's central universities are only entitled to $2,000 a year per department for research. Research spending overall is only 0.6 per cent of GDP. Business reseach provides a model for near-market, fast-turnaround research which could provide a model for higher-education, says Sinha.

India needs 1,000 additional universities and 50,000 new colleges to meet its targets to have 50 million Indians in higher education by 2020. This is where the opportunities for collaboration really come in, Sinha says. Industry has been so successful in accessing India's talent pool, he says, and Europe's universities should follow that example. There is also a lot of philantrophist funding in India, and collaboration with the West will help institutions access this money.

We are now entering the Q&A part of the session.

Syed Hassan from Lahore University asks how Liverpool university managed to achieve Western education standards in China. Newby answers that standards of recruitment in China are based on Liverpool, and reputation of university attracts high-level applicants. Sinha adds that getting international staff in is difficult for undergraduate courses, as this requires a long-term stay. It works better for post-grads, he says.

Pramath Sinha asks how Liverpool funds its Chinese university. Newby says it is funded through student fees, which are around £6,000. He adds that this could even open up the possibility for Liverpool students to go to China and spend £6,000 a year for the same degree which would cost £9,000 in the UK.

That's the end of this session and the end of our conference. Thanks a lot for joining us today!

September 07, 2011

Rankings don't affect EU university strategies

by Inga Vesper

After our August summer break Research Europe is back in business. We will publish our next issue on 15 September, brimming with research policy news from across Europe. To give you a taster of what is to come, our guest author James Brooks is looking at international rankings, and what they mean to EU universities.


The publication of the 2011 Shanghai Jiaotong rankings last month showed what is already common knowledge – over the past years European universities have not managed to profoundly improve their position in international academic rankings.

We asked the universities of Sheffield, Stockholm, Utrecht and Zurich, who made it into the top 100, if they set much store by their placing. Just how important is a good placing nowadays? Crucially, are their strategies influenced by a desire to climb the table?

The short answer to that last question is “no”. The longer answer, exemplified by Kåre Bremer, president and vice chancellor of Stockholm University, which has climbed seven places over the last two years, is that institutions “would in any case promote activities leading to results improving the indicators used”.

Those indicators are all research-related, with an emphasis on science and medicine. For example, Shanghai’s assessment of quality of education is based on the number of alumni who go on to win Nobel Prizes or Fields Medals. This makes it hard to set a strategy to climb the rankings.

But even those at universities  benefitting from the focus on scientific research can be ambivalent about Shanghai and similar ranking systems. Katrien Maes, policy officer at the League of European Research Universities, says that for some institutions rankings “throw a monkey-wrench into how universities are seen, how their role in society is perceived”.

“Sometimes it goes too much towards this call on universities to be providers of direct economic benefit to societies—the total sum of what universities do is not easily equated to a number of things that can be measured,” she says.

Lesley Wilson, secretary general of the European University Association, talks favourably of the efforts made by the pilot EU ranking project U-Multirank to compile a ranking system that goes beyond assessing research output and includes measures for things like quality of teaching.  

Wilson says that “it’s very difficult, actually, to find the data that will give you a clear indication of the quality of teaching. It’s easier in a national context but the state of the art in terms of comparable data available on these issues across countries inside Europe is not wonderful”.

Rebecca Hughes, pro vice-chancellor international at the University of Sheffield, agrees that international rankings are of limited validity. Sheffield itself has dropped 15 places in the Shanghai rankings over the last 5 years. But the fall, says Hughes, is not reflective of any diminished research output.

“European universities have raised their game and therefore there’s a sort of jockeying for position in that top 100 – it’s very tight,” she says. “It’s not necessarily an indicator of a drop-off.”

Yet Hughes, like Wilson, supports a proliferation of ranking systems. “The more rankings you have that are transparent and look at different aspects of excellence, the better,” she says. “If you’ve got to have rankings, having lots of different rankings is not a bad thing.”


If you would like to read more from James, check out his blog my last nerve.

June 30, 2011

Commission proposes €80bn for next Framework Programme

by Inga Vesper

The next Framework Programme will be worth €80.2 billion if the European Commission gets its way, the proposal for the 20140-2020 Commission budget has shown.

This would represent a 46 per cent increase on the budget of Framework 7, which runs from 2007 to 2013 and is worth about €56bn. In a statement announcing the budget proposal, the Commission said that the increase is meant to boost Europe’s economy and shows a lasting commitment to research, science and innovation.

"This is an anti-crisis budget, a pro-jobs budget and a budget for tackling our biggest challenges—things like climate change, energy and food security, health and our ageing population,” said Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, the research commissioner. “It's a pro-growth budget and more growth means less austerity for less long.”

The European Commission proposal was announced last night (29 June) after long deliberations within the Commission.

Part of the budget increase is because it seems the Commission has made good on its plans to unite research and innovation funding, and some agriculture funding. Geoghegan-Quinn has already announced that the budget includes a proposal for a €4.5bn funding pot for agricultural and food research.

However, the €80bn could also include the follow-up to the Competitiveness and Innovation Programme, which has, until now, been run by DG Enterprise, but is expected to move to DG Research and Innovation in the next budget. The CIP fund is worth around €3.6bn in the 2007-2013 budget and could make up a significant part of the overall increase for 2014-2020.

"What is more we will be streamlining our research and innovation funding, under the new Horizon 2020 programme, to get even better value for taxpayers," said Geoghegan-Quinn.

The Commission announced yesterday that its proposed multi-annual budget for 2014-2020 would be €1,025bn in commitments, which translates roughly into €972.2bn of outgoing payments. This makes up around 1 per cent of the EU’s overall gross national income.

No sub-budgets have been set within the research and innovation funding stream. A detailed budget including plans on how the money could be spread between research areas and programmes will be published by the Commission in December.

The budget proposal will now be passed on to the European Parliament and the European Council, which will have to approve or amend it. This tug of war between the EU’s three governing bodies could continue well into 2012, despite the Commission saying it is aiming for a swift agreement.

For an overall budget breakdown and a statement by Jose Manuel Barroso, see: http://rsrch.co/lTbyzA

June 01, 2011

Framework and the Innovation Union live blog - 3 of 3

by Inga Vesper

Welcome to Research Europe's Framework and the Innovation Union live blog from The International Auditorium in Brussels. Our third session today is Making Framework Work.

Our speakers are Piotr Swiatek, FP7 National Contact Point at Research Centre Juelich in Germany, Ladislav Balko from the European Court of Auditors, and Bruno van Pottelsberghe, a professor of Technical Innovation at Solvay University Brussels.

Continue reading "Framework and the Innovation Union live blog - 3 of 3" »

Inga Vesper

Inga Vesper

Inga Vesper is news editor for Research Europe and Europe editor for Research Fortnight.