Androulla Vassiliou: EU funding for research and education – inspiring science today and in the future

Androulla Vassiliou – Member of the European Education in charge of Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth

CERN visit / Geneva, 15-4-2013 — / — It is a great pleasure to be here with you this morning in one of the leading institutions of world science: CERN. I would like to thank CERN, and in particular you, Professor Heuer, for organising this visit and for giving me the opportunity to discover the famous facilities of the Large Hadron Collider. I am also delighted to have the opportunity to meet with CERN researchers, some of you being Marie Curie fellows.

Europe has for long invested heavily in research and fundamental research. The European Commission has supported this investment through different actions under the Research Framework programme – more commonly referred as FP7.

Investing in research is not an option nor an alternative; it is a necessity for Europe in order to build a strong knowledge economy. At a time when the EU is facing one of the most serious economic crises, I believe we must invest in our human capital, we must invest in our researchers, we must invest in you.

CERN and CERN’s activities are precisely the type of research we need to preserve and even expand in Europe.

I was very impressed – but also inspired – by what I have seen this morning. You are working on topics that most of us barely understand fully, despite the fundamental nature of your work.

I am genuinely impressed by the drive of the people here in CERN, your passion, your dedication and your capacity to push back the boundaries of knowledge and understanding of the world.

The European Commission and CERN have a track record of strong collaboration and when it comes to the programme directly under my responsibility, I can clearly say that CERN and the Marie Curie Actions are long standing partners.

Since 2007 CERN has been involved in 35 Marie Curie Actions projects with EU financing of €44 million, which will support around 260 researchers. I know also that CERN promotes the Marie Curie Actions very actively to its current and potential employees, and I am very grateful for these efforts.

Last December the celebration of the 100th Marie Curie Action COFUND fellowship programme included an excellent presentation of the successful CERN COFUND fellowship programme by Mr Hegarty. There are three CERN COFUND projects, which have been awarded a total EU funding of €20 million for 140 fellowships, each one lasting three years.

In this room today, we have several fellows of Marie Curie from a wide range of nationalities. This reflects both the international organisation that is CERN, and the spirit of Marie Curie Actions, which are based on international mobility of different kinds. The programme has indeed a worldwide reach, demonstrated by the fact that over 20% of our fellows have a non-European nationality.

Our ambition is to make Europe an attractive place to study and do research so it can also attract more young people to take up scientific careers. Europe’s future ability to generate growth and jobs depends on our ability to become a world-class science performer.

In this perspective, we have recently proposed a revision of the visa directive for students and researchers coming to the EU. The objective is to facilitate the immigration procedures for foreign researchers who want to come to the EU to receive training or to work.

For instance, we want to make it easier for foreign researchers to bring their families, so that they are better able to focus on their research work. It is now in the hands of the Member States to discuss and agree on this new directive.

In times of economic crisis, young people are the first victims of unemployment. And the latest figures of youth unemployment are worrying. As Commissioner responsible for Education, I am deeply concerned that young people are provided with good quality education and training leading to future employment opportunities.

In this room, we see a different and more positive picture: thanks to your scientific background and for some, your experience as a Marie Curie fellow at CERN, you are on an exciting and rewarding career path.

The Marie Curie Actions also help to bring research, universities and businesses together in what we call the ‘knowledge triangle’. In September 2012 the Marie Curie Actions started to fund 20 European Industrial Doctorates, which will last for up to four years.

The participants from research enterprises build, in collaboration with a university, a doctoral programme that will bring the researchers to the industrial sector for at least 50% of the duration of their PhD. CERN is hosting one European Industrial Doctorates project called ICE-DIP, in collaboration with Intel. This will focus on advanced information and communication technologies and I am looking forward to seeing the results of this collaboration between such major international players.

Dear Friends,

We have all followed the recent major discovery of the ‘Higgs Boson’ made at CERN and which has attracted a lot of media attention. Let me say once again how proud we all are that the team working on this historic finding included several Marie Curie fellows through, for instance, the ACEOLE and TALENT projects. It must be every scientist’s dream to be part of an achievement like this; I hope this will encourage all of you to go even further in your quest to expand the frontiers of science – and I hope that your work will inspire the girls and boys who will be our next generation of scientists.

This – but also all the other projects on which you are working such as the ENTERVISION just to name one – gives political decision-makers a strong signal that the EU programmes such as Marie Curie Actions, but more broadly Horizon 2020, are worth fighting for.

This is all the more important as we are in a negotiating phase now at EU level over the budget of the next generation of the research programme for the period 2014-2020. The Commission had proposed a substantial increase for research funding with €80 billion devoted to the new Horizon 2020 programme, including €5.7 billion for the new Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions.

Following the decision by the European Council to cut the overall amount of the EU budget, the total budget for Horizon 2020 would potentially be €70.2 billion which is still a substantial increase compared to the previous period (€ 55 billion, so an increase of 28%). But, this would also mean a much lower increase for the Marie Curie Actions.

We are now entering the final phase of these negotiations. It is up to the European Parliament and the Member States to agree on a final amount for research. I am personally committed to preserving as much funding as possible for research and education, in particular for the Marie Curie Actions.

Besides the budget issue, the new Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions will build on the achievements of the current programme and continue to support the human resources behind research and innovation. The actions will even further promote international and inter-sectoral mobility to the leading labs in Europe and around the world. Fellows will work under attractive conditions, following the principles laid down in European Charter for Researchers and the code of conduct for the recruitment of researchers.

The Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions are expected to become the main EU programme offering support for structured doctoral training, supporting around 25 000 PhDs. These will include industrial doctorates, joint doctorates, and other innovative forms of research training as well as strong incentives to acquire both specialist knowledge transferable competencies like entrepreneurship.

I would like also to encourage you to share your research with the widest audience possible. CERN has taken very concrete actions in this respect, and I am looking forward to hearing a bit more about it. But, especially for the Marie Curie fellows or any researchers supported by other EU programmes such as ERC for instance, it is important to explain to citizens how we use their money and for what results.

In addition, by engaging in outreach activities and sharing your passion, you may encourage young girls and boys to start a scientific and research career. We count on you.

Ladies and Gentlemen

In conclusion, I could not resist referring to a woman I personally admire. Maria Skłodowska-Curie has shown us that scientific achievements can have a direct and positive impact on people’s lives as the CERN does. As she said, “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less”.

I think this summarizes perfectly what CERN is all about. So let’s make sure the future of researchers in Europe remains bright. You can count on my full and personal commitment in this endeavour.


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