Дискриминация в заплащането на източноевропейски и западноевропейски изследователи / Една полемична статия /

Публикувам в блога статията на Michael Galsworthy ,изследовател от Словения, емигрирал в Англия. Тя е посветена на невралгичната тема за дискриминацията в трудовите възнаграждания между източните и западните учени, участващи в съвместни екипи по европейски проекти.

Смятам, че преди началото на новия програмен период /2014-2020 г./ проблемът за двойния стандарт при оценката на труда на експертите, прилаган от ЕК и брюкселската бюрокрация, трябва да намери решение. И то не е чрез временен бонус от 8000 евро ,както предвиждат европейските институции, а зрез обективна оценка на качеството на работата и индивидуалния принос на всеки учен.

Сегашната дискриминационна практика е ентипазарна , а от социално-политическа гледна точка - направо експлоататорска.
/Проф. Кръстьо Петков/

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Eastern Europe needs joined-up policy as well as topped-up pay
By Michael Galsworthy
Research Europe
20-02-2014

EU bonuses can help to level the playing field. But other reforms will be needed for Europe as a whole to maximise its scientific potential, says Michael Galsworthy.

In the years preceding Horizon 2020, science in eastern Europe faced two main problems. First, the region’s participation rate in EU-funded projects was desperately low. Second, stagnant pay and rising living costs were compounded by austerity measures that cut into science jobs and salaries heavily.

EU funding offered no respite. The European Commission would pay salaries at the local rate, even though the rate for doing the same work, on the same project, in a wealthier European country would be substantially more. As a result, scientists fled eastern Europe at a time when the region needed to retain them to replace an inefficient old guard left over from the communist era. With talent starved and driven out, the mood among young scientists was glum.

For a long time, documents from the Commission noted the uncompetitive nature of eastern Europe and the strong salary inequalities across the continent, but offered little in-depth analysis. Generally, the patronising line was that there could be no compromise on the criterion of excellence for European science. This meant no tokenism or hand-outs for struggling eastern European research institutes and their scientists. Yet eastern Europe has a strong history in science and a huge reservoir of potential for a new, open Europe.

Things changed late in 2012. Anyone employed on an EU project anywhere can now be paid a bonus of up to €8,000 a year. In addition, Horizon 2020 includes a €722-million fund called Spreading Excellence and Widening Participation, aimed at restructuring outmoded research organisations and bringing in talent. Structural funds, often misspent or unspent during Framework 7, will be targeted to substantial ICT, research and innovation efforts according to the plans for regional ‘smart’ specialisation that governments will put before the Commission. This regional development fund will be a colossal €100 billion, and money for centres of excellence in the east is attracting the interest of big western research institutions. It is an ambitious and multifaceted package, but is it enough to cure eastern Europe’s research and innovation ills for good?

The pay problem

Allow me to write of my own experience. When working in Slovenia on projects funded by Framework programmes 6 and 7, I loved being part of large international teams but the low salary made it impossible to make ends meet. I noted ruefully that although we divided up work months evenly, huge differences in salary meant that the bulk of the budget would be going to our western partners. If I had claimed my work hours from London, I would have tripled my net pay and lived comfortably. This observation triggered my return to the UK, and I knew that other colleagues in Slovenia were planning and implementing their escapes.

Discontent in the most recent member states, known as the EU-12, reached the Commission via the permanent representations of those countries in Brussels. Things came to a head at a meeting of the Competitiveness Council in October 2012. Research ministers from all EU countries debated two potential solutions. One was to pay all scientists on international projects at the very generous Marie Curie rates. The other was rooted in the observation that during Framework 7, some of the wilier institutions in poorer regions had been paying their researchers bonuses from EU funds. This was legal, although something of a grey area. The option was to formalise such top-ups, so that up to €8,000 in bonus payments could be claimed each year.

The idea of paying everyone Marie Curie rates was ultimately discarded: it was prohibitively expensive, the cross-level rate setting was complex and the measure could be disruptive as many young researchers in poor countries would be earning more than their bosses. The €8,000 maximum bonus was agreed as a flexible, quick and simple fix.

However, this is not the whole story. I had been exploring the salary issue as part of my academic work on mapping EU-funded health research. An impact assessment from the Commission showed that, during Framework 7, the EU-12 had participated in 6 per cent of health-related projects but received only 2.5 per cent of the total funds for this research. The notion that this ratio of participation to funds must have been the result of rock-bottom salaries in the east was confirmed by a Commission report from 2007, which found huge variation in scientists’ salaries across Europe, even after controlling for living costs. Yet there was a dearth of commentary in the impact assessment itself and in the Horizon 2020 plans. Even the 136-page Researchers’ Report 2012, published by Deloitte for the Directorate-General for Research and Innovation, said only: “Researchers’ remuneration levels differ substantially across European countries (correlating with the cost of living).” How irresponsible to deal with such a fundamental issue so offhandedly.

The €8,000 bonus is an immediate solution but, with large salary differences remaining, it may be applying a bandage where an operation is needed. There are essentially two competing arguments: either scientists should receive equal pay for equal work, regardless of geography, or institutions must compete with each other like companies, with what they pay factoring into that competition. Both arguments have merit. However, if the latter becomes policy then institutions must be genuinely permitted to compete, meaning that they can claim for their services more freely. Rules that effectively tie salaries to national wealth are anti-competitive.

The structural problem

Structural problems at my research institute were another reason for me to leave Slovenia. This issue, like salary, is something that a top-down analysis will not show. For example, Slovenia seems to be doing very well in EU-funded research, with high levels of participation. Yet no matter how many grants a country pulls in, if salaries are poor, bureaucracy heavy, resources for networking and support thin and the career path unattractive, many ambitious scientists will look elsewhere.

Western Europe has had more time and money to build up international competitiveness, so eastern Europe now needs a jump-start to get in the race. One option is an infusion of western organisational know-how, so that local young talent can be nurtured in improved environments. The Spreading Excellence and Widening Participation fund should help struggling regions develop the structural and skill capacities to compete for greater access to Horizon 2020 funding. This means special posts to retain or win back top talent, and funds to team up with western counterparts, analyse and identify problems and get institutions into better shape.

Another major component to building the required infrastructure will come from structural funds. During Framework 7, the €350bn available was not channelled into research and innovation in eastern Europe, despite the Commission’s recommendations. Many governments felt that their priorities should be to put out economic fires, leaving them no capacity to apply for the funds. This will change as policy helpdesks assist governments in putting together smart specialisation plans that provide clarity on what development is needed. Essential infrastructure can be funded once a coherent vision is in place.

These large funds can help to create centres of global excellence such as the Extreme Light Infrastructure, a laser facility based in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania. It would be politically dangerous for a struggling government to advocate such a big project on its own. But once established to global standards of excellence using EU funds, such projects become national treasures and magnets for talent and investment.

The networking problem

So far, so good—in theory. But there will be inertia to overcome. How do those who have never been in the habit of competing for EU grants suddenly change? Why would groups of western institutions that always apply together suddenly take on eastern partners?

In some cases, outreach from western or Pan-European bodies can fit their own interests and mission. One example is in public health, where improving life expectancy and reducing inequalities is a Europe-wide mission. I have been drawing up plans with the European Public Health Association and the European Public Health Alliance to promote eastern European involvement in research programmes and conferences. Networking eastwards and building local research capacity helps health systems in critical need of strengthening, thus raising European standards and saving lives.

Young researchers in the east also need more of a voice in policy. Anyone who has worked in eastern Europe has seen the cultural divide between the bright, eager youth and some of their elders in positions of power. Pan-European bodies and the Commission would benefit from contact with young eastern researchers who can talk about the situation on the ground. Such groups could help the Commission disseminate opportunities or gauge the impact of their efforts, such as whether the €8,000 bonus is making a difference.

We now need a sustained effort to fully integrate eastern Europe into the European research and innovation ecosystem. I was delighted to hear two senior speakers at the UK’s Horizon 2020 launch say that eastern Europeans are no less bright than westerners. The Commission is also now putting money down in a way that indicates bold investment rather than trickles of charity. Now that we have the right sentiments and funds, we need to define the yardsticks of successful investment. It will all take hard work, but that work will bring everyone dividends a decade from now and onwards.

Michael Galsworthy is in the Department of Applied Health Research at University College London.

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