Research Careers and Research Assessment at EU Level: A Path to Sustainable Excellence

Research Careers and Research Assessment at EU Level: A Path to Sustainable Excellence 950 379 Open and Universal Science (OPUS) Project

Today, Europe grapples with significant socio-political and economic challenges. Increasing global competition, geopolitical tensions, and the era of technological advancements and artificial intelligence demand a robust and dynamic response. At the forefront of this response are researchers—the backbone of Europe’s research and innovation system. These individuals are crucial in maintaining the continent’s competitive edge, transforming research potential into practical solutions that improve citizens’ lives, and supporting industries and businesses across Europe and beyond. They are also pivotal in understanding and implementing the systemic transformations required for more sustainable futures. This necessitates a thorough reconsideration of recruitment practices, performance expectations and assessments, the industrialised publication culture, wellbeing management, and more (Teerikangas et al., 2022). Strengthening research careers is essential for addressing global societal challenges and accelerating the green and digital twin transition.

The Current Landscape

The European Union (EU) remains a global leader in research, boasting 23.5% of the world’s researchers (UNESCO, 2021). Despite this, many researchers in EU countries face precarious employment and working conditions. Significant progress has been made since the launch of the European Research Area (ERA) in 2000. Recent developments include a dedicated action on research careers in the ERA policy agenda for research and innovation (2022-2024 and follow-up 2025-2027) aimed at improving researchers’ careers and opportunities across various sectors.

However, gaps remain, particularly in supporting broader career trajectories and enabling flexible careers across academia, industry, public administration, and entrepreneurship.

Recent Initiatives and Policies

In recent years, the EU has made concerted efforts to enhance research careers and reduce precarity. Key initiatives include:

  1. EU Framework to Attract and Retain Talent: Adopted at the end of 2023, this Council recommendation aims to create a more supportive environment for researchers.
  2. Sustainable Careers for Researcher Empowerment (SECURE): This EU-funded project, implemented by The Academy of Business in Society (ABIS) and the Young European Research Universities Network (YERUN), aims to realise the EU framework and trial its key aspects in research performing and funding organisations.
  3. Coalition for Advancing Research Assessment (CoARA): This coalition is crucial in enabling systemic reform and improving assessments to recognise diverse careers, outputs, practices, and activities. The European Commission’s Action Plan to implement the ten commitments of the Agreement on Reforming Research Assessment (ARRA) exemplifies CoARA’s importance.
  4. Next EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation (FP10): Expert assessments and meetings are already taking place to build on the successes of previous programmes and further invest in and enhance research careers. YERUN’s policy paper (April 2024) recommends key priorities to make FP10 highly attractive, impactful, and inclusive.

Towards an Inclusive and Sustainable Research Ecosystem

For the EU to remain competitive in the global race for talent, it must enable sustainable careers and attractive working conditions for researchers. This includes acknowledging and rewarding different career paths, incentivising researchers to adopt Open Science approaches, and promoting collaboration, openness, and the valorisation of research results.

Key policies, initiatives, and tools supporting these goals include:

  • The New Charter for Researchers: Updates provisions for good working conditions and research environments.
  • European Competence Framework for Researchers (ResearchComp): Facilitates the assessment and development of researchers’ transferable skills, fostering intersectoral careers.
  • European Skills, Competence, and Occupations Classifications (ESCO): Aligns skills and competences with job requirements.
  • EURAXESS: Serves as a one-stop shop for researchers and innovators, providing essential information and access to job opportunities across Europe.
  • RESAVER: A pan-European pension scheme allowing mobile researchers to remain affiliated with the same pension solution.
  • Research Career Observatory (ReICO): Will include data and evidence to effectively monitor research career paths, working conditions, jobs, mobility, and develop evidence-based policies.
  • WIDERA Talent ecosystems pilot: Offers support to institutions to improve researchers’ career development and facilitate cross-sectoral collaboration.

Building a Resilient Future for Research Careers

Addressing the challenges faced by researchers and ensuring sustainable research careers requires coordinated action at the EU level. This includes promoting balanced talent circulation and making Europe an attractive destination for researchers. By fostering a more inclusive, flexible, transparent, and supportive research and innovation ecosystem, the EU can strengthen its global leadership.

The future of research careers in the EU hinges on continuous efforts to secure adequate investments, improve working conditions, support diverse career paths, and promote collaboration and openness. The EU-funded SECURE project is a critical catalyst for achieving the ambition of making research careers attractive and sustainable, ensuring that the EU maintains its leading position in research and innovation and drives inclusive societal progress.

Original article at SECURE

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