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An Interview with Georg Winckler: EU-Charter & Code of Conduct - European Researchers enter Center Stage

bridges vol. 11, September 2006 / Feature Articles
by Bettina Neunteufl

 

wilhelmvonhumboldt_smallWilhelm von Humboldt once recommended that research should be done in "isolation and freedom" and that the nowadays oft-cited ivory tower would be the most proper environment for achieving qualified knowledge. It is understood that Humboldt never meant for scientists to be locked up in their labs with no social contacts. "Isolation" is rather meant as striving for truth in oneself, and "freedom" should be seen as intellectual independence.

Researchers may come from various backgrounds, with diverse interests and a broad spectrum of hopes and dreams. But one thing they all have in common is curiosity and a passion for research. Although the researchers have left their ivory towers, and the links between science and society are more and more evident, the actual work of scientists is sometimes still shrouded in mystery and many talented young people in the European Union may view science as a difficult and poorly paid career-choice.

In order to put the spotlight on European research, the European Commission issued the European Charter of Researchers and the Code of Conduct for the Recruitment of Researchers.

 

Both Charter and Code regard all researchers of the EU, at all stages of their careers, within all disciplines both in the private and the public sectors. Specific objectives are to bring scientific researchers closer to the public and attract young people to careers in science. In this sense, the Charter and the Code invite researchers, employers, and funders to act responsibly and professionally within their working environment, recognizing each other as respected partners.

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The documents include recommendations addressed to the Member States of the European Union to counteract the lack of researchers within the EU. To attain the EU's research objectives of increased investment in research, about 1.2 million additional research personnel, including 700,000 additional researchers, are deemed necessary, in addition to the expected replacement of the aging research workforce. (Source: J. M. Gago et al., "Increasing human resources for science and technology in Europe," report for the EC conference "Europe needs for scientists," Brussels, April 2, 2004.)

Roles and responsibilities on both sides
According to the Charter:

  • Researchers within their freedom of research should focus their work on expanding the frontiers of scientific knowledge with regard for recognized ethical principles and practices. It is expected that they act with professional responsibility and attitudes since they are accountable to their employers and, on a broader ethical ground, to society studentin_mikroskop_smallas a whole.
  • Researchers at all levels have both contractual and legal obligations and must be familiar with national, regional, or institutional regulations. When delivering results (e.g., thesis, scientific publications, patents, etc.), researchers must adhere to such regulations.
  • Regarding dissemination and utilization of results, the European Charter determines that researchers have to take care of communicating and transferring results among the scientific community and, if appropriate, commercializing the outcome of their work.

Public engagement has become more important with the aim of increasing the public's awareness of research. Publishing research activities in a way that laymen can understand them will help to improve mutual understanding and trust.

But the relationship with the supervisors, especially for researchers in the early phase of their careers, cannot be neglected. Young researchers are prompted to establish a constructive and regular relationship with their mentors so that they benefit fully from this association. Senior researchers, therefore, are asked to assume supervision and managerial duties. With regard to their role as leaders, they set the conditions for the transfer of knowledge and the development of the researchers' careers. "Lifelong Learning" should be part of a successful career, hence researchers should seek to regularly update and expand their skills.

Reach out for 2010
Since the Lisbon Council in March 2000, a clear goal of the European Union is to become one of the most dynamic, knowledge-based economic regions in the world -by the year 2010. According to statistical data (December 2005) of Eurostat (Statistical Office of the European Communities), in 2004 the EU25 spent nearly €200 billion on Research & Development (R&D). R&D intensity (i.e., the expenditure as a percentage of GDP) in the EU25 stood at 1.90 percent compared to 1.92 percent in 2003. In the EU25, R&D intensity remained significantly lower than in other major economies: In 2003, R&D expenditure was 2.59 percent of the US GDP and 3.15 percent in Japan, while it was 1.31 percent in China. The EU goals in Research and Development, as set by the Lisbon Summit strategy, are to achieve an R&D intensity of at least 3 percent for the EU as a whole by 2010.

salary_researchers The relation of R&D expenditure to the number of researchers employed shows the average financial endowment of a research post. A huge amount of the money is dedicated to the salaries of the researchers, but equipment, materials, and services are also included in the total. The labor costs average about 60 percent of the total, but differ significantly between countries and sectors. In EU-15 in 2001, the average funding per research post was €171,000 (Table I-3b). This is lower than both the US average (€182,000) and the Japanese average (€212,000). After the enlargement, the new EU-25 average is €156,000. (Source: European Commission, "Towards a European Research Area Science, Technology and Innovation" - Key Figures 2003, Page 47)

Better safe than sorry
In a defined European Research and Higher Education Area, the highest-level research, both in public and private institutions, should be done by a swarm of highly qualified and motivated researchers. But to stay internationally competitive, the EU still has to improve and ameliorate the working conditions of the scientific staff. With this in mind, the writers of the Charter and the Code of Conduct took up some essential points of the labor union's attitude:

  • Working conditions should enable both women and men to combine family and work, children and career;
  • Employers and funders must not discriminate against researchers on the basis of gender, age, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, etc.
  • Employment contracts should avoid instability with its negative impact on the researchers' performance; employers should guarantee consistency.

The social security systems of the Member States differ. Therefore researchers often risk a great deal when they decide to move to another country. Attention should be paid to pension rights: These should be transferable within the EU, so researchers moving across borders do not experience a loss. Therefore, "Employers and/or funders should ensure that researchers enjoy fair and attractive conditions of funding and/or salaries with adequate and equitable social security provisions (including sickness and parental benefits, pension rights, and unemployment benefits)," says the Charter.

The value of mobility must also be given more consideration. Economic activity is unevenly distributed across Europe, so that mobility of labor is a necessity if skilled researchers are to be available in the areas of high economic growth. Supporting scientists' mobility in a geographical, inter-sectoral (public and private), and an interdisciplinary sense is the best way to obtain and enlarge scientific knowledge in Europe. The European Charter for Researchers and the Code of Conduct for the Recruitment of Researchers can help Europe make the most of its scientific potential.

winckler_c_pfluegl_smallbridges interviewed Prof. Georg Winckler, rector of the University of Vienna, one of the institutions that has already signed the Charter and the Code. Prof. Winckler is also the president of the European University Association (EUA).

bridges: How do the European Charter for Researchers and the Code of Conduct for the Recruitment of Researchers enhance career possibilities for Austrian researchers?

Georg Winckler:
The Charter and the Code are an expression of general principles whose adoption will strengthen the professionalization of the careers of young researchers and, hopefully, will attract the best minds to do research in Europe. It will facilitate Trans-European research careers. The Code of Conduct for the Recruitment of Researchers aims at improving recruitment, and making selection procedures fairer and more transparent. It proposes different means of judging merit: Merit should not concentrate on publications but should include a wider range of evaluation criteria such as teaching, supervision, teamwork, knowledge transfer, management, and public awareness activities. There is an additional point why European universities should back the Charter and the Code: It prescribes better research conditions for new entrants into the research field. Better conditions have to put in place as a response to an aging research community in Europe.

bridges: How will the Code of Conduct specifically influence the recruitment of researchers at the University of Vienna?

Georg Winckler:
The University of Vienna entirely supports this initiative. We see the implementation of the European Charter for Researchers as a step towards achieving the goals of the University of Vienna. The University of Vienna has begun the implementation of the recommendations by a number of measures, among them, the "Affirmative Action Plan for the advancement of women" and the "Initiativkolleges," structured doctoral programs for strengthening research competence. Organizations that have endorsed the Code, like the University of Vienna, make it clear that they treat early stage researchers well, and they tend to attract better researchers and to engage in better research cooperation.

bridges: How can the results from the implementation of the Charter and the Code of Conduct be evaluated?

Georg Winckler:
Ultimately by better research output, especially among the early stage researchers.

bridges: Will the implementation of the Charter and the Code stay on an optional basis or is it expected to become obligatory for institutions?

Georg Winckler:
Signing the Charter and Code does not mean to apply every single word. The Charter and Code are not legally binding texts; they are the expression of a framework of general principles and they should and will stay like this. At the moment, the aim is to launch a European debate on how to best implement the ideas of the Charter and Code.

bridges: How can Europe become the most attractive labor market for researchers from all over the world?

Georg Winckler:
The discussion on how to create an attractive and competitive European researchers' labor market needs to be embedded in the broader policy context, namely the EU's ambitious objective to become the most competitive knowledge-based economy by 2010. Much effort and determination will still be needed to achieve the objectives of the Lisbon strategy and the development of the Europe of Knowledge. The creation of a Trans-European labor market for researchers is part of these efforts. Europe needs autonomous, accountable, well funded universities which operate in a large society or, as stated in the 2005 Glasgow Declaration of the EUA, Europe needs "Strong Universities for a Strong Europe."

bridges:
What - if any - criticism of the Charter and the Code of Conduct has been leveled by the scientific community or other people/ institutions so far?


Georg Winckler:
The Charter and Code professionalize research careers within Europe, which is needed to achieve competitiveness in a global research environment. However the implementation of the principles of the Charter and Code might be costly, e.g., strengthening the development of research careers will be accompanied by increased salaries and contributions to the social security system.

***

The author, Bettina Neunteufl, has been at the Department of Public Relations & Communication at Vienna University of Technology since 2001, spending an internship form July-September 2006 at the OST.

The above article was prepared based on the "European Charter for Researchers and the Code of Conduct for the Recruitment of Researchers" of the European Commission and on an interview conducted with Prof. Georg Winckler.

Related Sources:
European Charter for Researchers & Code of Conduct for the Recruitment of Researchers

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