July 24, 2009
“European Research Council in full flight,” screams the July issue of the Europe4Researchers newsletter published by the European Commission, which landed in my inbox on this afternoon.
The article boasts that the ERC has “developed into a well-functioning research funding body”.
Great news, if it were true.
Yesterday a panel of experts – assembled by the Commission itelf to review the workings of the ERC – uncovered “fundamental problems related to rules and practices regarding the governance, administration and operations of the ERC”. It said its structures are not fit for purpose, and much more besides. (More here)
How embarrassing! Did the panel not know they were supposed to congratulate everyone involved for the great success of the ERC?
The Commission issued an official press release, complete with relatively benign quotes from Commissioner Potočnik and former Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga. And at a press conference in the Commission on Thursday they all seemed to be great pals.
But read the report and you find it is striking how blunt it is in parts. It’s also full of exclamation marks ! AND SOME POINTS ARE CAPITALISED TO STRESS THEIR IMPORTANCE. You get the sense that the author was lurching from exasperation to feeling the need to SHOUT!
To be fair to the ERC, it’s a new body still finding its feet. But the bigger question is whether we need it at all. Or perhaps whether we need some of the other expensive agencies supported by public funds.
The ERC’s raison d’être is all about research excellence, foreseeing emerging trends in science, and bringing innovation from the lab to market etc.
So how does it fit with the European Science Foundation which “promotes high quality research at the European level”. Or with the European Institute for Innovation and Technology (EIT) which promises to bring excellence to innovative European research?
Then there’s the Research Executive Agency, a (newly) autonomous body which runs some of the FP7 projects. And of course there is a whole Directorate General dedicated to research in the Commission – plus another half a dozen units in other DGs with an interest in “innovation”.
This is a mess. If the esteemed group of experts had been asked to assess all of Europe’s research bodies as a whole, they may well have concluded that there is so much overlap that several of these (rather expensive) offices should be merged.Author : Gary Finnegan