The Future of Science and Technology in Europe

author: Jose Mariano Gago, Ministry of Science, Technology and Higher Education Portugal
published: Jan. 6, 2014,   recorded: April 2008,   views: 1945

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José Mariano Gago draws the title of his talk from a book written collectively by European Union research ministers, following years of discussion. While it is the result of a long-term bureaucratic process, the book and the agreement it represents also constitute a political triumph of sorts, suggests Gago.

In a nutshell, says Gago, “the EU intends to become the most advanced knowledge-based economy in the world while achieving at the same time social cohesion and sustainable, environmental development.” A tall order, but one on which consensus was struck among very different member nations, and which is being translated in a variety of ways. A prominent concern for the EU, Gago notes, is the increasingly competitive global market for human resources. Ultimately, Europeans hope their policies will reverse the brain drain with the U.S. in science and technology.

The EU has spelled out specific steps for achieving its goals, which include increased public funding of and private investment in R&D, reforming universities (and pushing for their internationalization), and developing and extending R&D infrastructure such as distributed computing networks. The landscape of European research is complex, and driven not by a solitary political structure but by the means and needs of many nations, Gago reminds us. The mechanisms for taking on these challenges are consequently multifaceted. Among other initiatives, the European Research Council hopes to develop “high class basic research” in all fields, including the humanities and social sciences, with a “large sum of money at stake.” There will be joint technology initiatives, partnerships between public and private organizations that will receive funding for a decade. The EU also hopes to internationalize industrial research, encouraging collaboration among commercial groups from different nations that normally compete against each other. There is also the hope of spawning new international research organizations modeled on the highly successful CERN. Gago mentions the recent launch of a Portuguese-Spanish International Nanotechnology Laboratory.

Gago runs through some R&D statistics pulled from research by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD): Portugal, he’s proud to say, has the highest proportion of women researchers, “after being one of the most traditional and backwards political systems in the 20th century.” The biggest European country, Germany, boasts fewer than 20% female researchers. European development, believes Gago, depends on building up women in the ranks in science and technology. Gago finally asks whether the U.S. and Europe might ultimately share a common vision, and if in fact the primary actors might not be research universities like MIT, with European partners.

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