Harris to head Euro study

15 Sep 2004

Dr William Harris (pictured), director general of Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), will chair a new pan-European study established by the European Commission to gauge the impact of a new European-wide focus on basic research funding.

Known as the High Level Expert Group (HLEG), Harris’s 12-person team will examine the potential benefits of introducing competition for basic research funding at the European level across all member states. The objective is to provide the Commission with a clear understanding of the impact such investments in basic research funding could have on research achievement and economic growth in Europe, and how the benefits of such investments can be maximised.

The creation of the HLEG follows a decision by the Commission in March to explore the value of boosting excellence in basic research by creating a European Research Council (ERC) to oversee support for basic research beyond what is possible at the national level. In March, the Commission’s Competitiveness Council, chaired by the Irish Presidency, noted that basic research “has an important role in providing a well prepared workforce for innovative enterprises as well as for universities who are often the research and development partners for enterprises. Scientific achievements in basic research create new opportunities for radical innovation and provide the breeding ground for spin-off companies, applied research and ultimately new products and markets.”

Dr Harris welcomed the opportunity to lead the examination of these principles and to report back to the Commission with the HLEG’s conclusions. “Around the world we see increasing competition for talented researchers working in fundamental areas of knowledge. The impact of their work on education, technology, and competitiveness can be enormous, and it is going to be interesting to look in-depth at what a competitive funding process for basic research in Europe might do to affect the Continent’s own opportunities.

The HLEG will examine how a pan-European competition for basic research and an ERC could impact such areas as: the excellence of individual scientists and teams (ie, attracting talent, providing significant funds); the strategies of universities and institutional development/research capacity more generally; the integration between national and European research systems; the quality of basic research on innovation capacity; researchers’ propensity to innovate and commercialise their knowledge; and the visibility of excellent teams to industry on a European scale.

The group is expected to deliver its final report to the Commission by mid-December 2004.

By Brian Skelly