European Commission’s Research & Innovation Careers Observatory: A Step Forward, Yet Improvements Needed

European Commission’s Research & Innovation Careers Observatory: A Step Forward, Yet Improvements Needed 1024 297 Open and Universal Science (OPUS) Project

In response to the pressing need for improved working conditions and career paths for early career researchers, the International Science Council’s (ISE) Manifesto for Early Career Researchers gained widespread support from European and national organizations. Recognizing the significance of this issue, Commissioner Mariya Gabriel declared it a top priority for the European Research Area. As a result, ISE, along with other representative bodies, called for the establishment of a “Research & Innovation Careers Observatory” to monitor and address various aspects of research careers.

The Commission’s Plan

The European Commission responded by announcing its plan to establish the Research and Innovation Careers Observatory (ReICO) through an agreement with the OECD. While the initiative’s launch demonstrates the Commission’s commitment to addressing the concerns raised, there are several shortcomings that need to be addressed.

Shortcomings and Areas for Improvement

  1. Lack of Alignment with European Research Area’s Agenda: The ReICO project, being an OECD initiative, carries a global perspective and expertise but lacks clear alignment with EU frameworks and classifications. It is essential to ensure that the project addresses the specific needs and challenges faced within the European context.
  2. Insufficient Data Quality and Coverage: The ReICO relies on data provided by individual countries, which often lack the required robustness in terms of numbers. This inadequacy includes incomplete information on contract types, social benefits, and pension rights. It is crucial to collaborate with national statistical organizations to obtain more comprehensive and higher-quality data.
  3. Limited Scope: The presentation of ReICO primarily focuses on science, technology, and innovation, omitting the social sciences and humanities entirely. It is important to emphasize that the Observatory should encompass all scientific fields, including societal innovation, to avoid a biased perspective on the role of research in society.
  4. Neglecting Early Career Researchers: The ReICO presentation fails to provide a specific focus on early career researchers, who face significant challenges regarding working conditions and career prospects. It is essential to consider indicators such as mental health issues, quality of doctoral training, and academic freedom restrictions to gain a comprehensive understanding of their experiences.
  5. Inadequate Stakeholder Involvement: The report does not sufficiently emphasize the involvement of organizations representing early career researchers or the research community at large in defining the goals, methods, and indicators of the Observatory. Their input is crucial to ensure the relevance and effectiveness of the project.

Call for Revision and Improvement

Given these limitations, ISE, along with its members and other stakeholders, urges a substantial revision of the ReICO plan. Key areas that require attention include clarifying the aims, governance, and means of implementation of the Observatory. Additionally, it is important to ensure the inclusion of all relevant data to understand the extent of potential career deviations from PhD tracks and academic paths. This revision should facilitate the implementation of a new conceptual framework and research assessment methodologies that prioritize the quality and impact of research results.

The Way Forward

To attract and retain the best minds in research, Europe must take decisive action. The case for such action has been widely articulated in various declarations, recommendations, and reports. ISE proposes a pilot project under Horizon Europe, funded by the DG RTD, to build a partnership that fosters research careers and includes industry collaboration. Co-funding mechanisms by government and regional agencies, along with the clarification of recruitment, career development, and tenure processes for early career researchers, should be integral to this effort.

Final thoughts

While the establishment of the Research and Innovation Careers Observatory represents progress in addressing the challenges faced by early career researchers, improvements are necessary to ensure its effectiveness within the European context. By rectifying the shortcomings and actively involving stakeholders, the Observatory can become a valuable tool for evidence-based decision-making, ultimately enhancing working conditions and career prospects for researchers across Europe.

Source: ISE

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