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What challenges and measures for the operationalization of the European Research Career Framework?

FCT and INESC TEC, in cooperation with the Directorate-General for Research and Innovation (DG RTD) of the European Commission (EC), promoted a European workshop within the framework of Action 4 – Research Careers of the ERA Policy Agenda, focused on the package of existing measures and instruments to support the necessary cultural and institutional changes. The EC announced in this workshop that it will open to all of Europe – for the first time – Calls for research careers, within the scope of Horizon Europe's WIDERA funding program.

O Call announced – Talent Ecosystems for Attractive Early Careers (or in the original version Talent Ecosystems for Attractive Early Careers ) – is a €20M pilot that aims to support organizational change and coordinate measures in academic and non-academic organizations. A measure that will create a talent ecosystem with a wide range of positions linked to R&D and that will provide intersectoral career opportunities for talents in this area.

The facilities of the Faculty of Engineering of the University of Porto brought together heads of institutions, research executors, researchers, managers, specialists in human resources management and representatives of the aforementioned Action 4, to provide information on the existing and planned measures in the new European framework. The meeting was welcomed by the Chairman of INESC TEC's Board of Directors, João Claro, Jaime Cardoso, also from INESC TEC and Vice-Chairman of FEUP's Scientific Council, Manuel Aleixo, Director of the Directorate-General for Research and Innovation (DG R&I), Madalena Alves, President of FCT, and Luísa Henriques, also from FCT, who served as host.

This workshop – the third organized in Portugal on the theme of the European framework for research careers since the beginning of 2023 – was attended by 307 representatives from universities, ministries, research institutions, the European Commission and European associations representing 17 Member States, 2 countries associated with Horizon Europe and 2 third countries. National participation covered the entire national territory, with a wide variety of institutions.

There were four sessions, which resulted in several conclusions and suggestions for future action and a series of conclusions.

The European framework for scientific careers

The first session, on the European framework for scientific careers, began with a general presentation of the framework approved by the European Commission, moderated by Eugénio Campos Ferreira, vice-rector of the University of Minho, and testimonies by Dario Capezzuto, Policy Officer at DG R&I and Luísa Henriques. The second part was based on sharing experiences in the adoption of the new framework regime by Member States and where João Claro moderated. Data from 2022 revealed the existence of 2 million researchers in Europe – 57% in the business sector, 32% in academia and 10% working for government entities -, an increase of 45% compared to 2012, and which represents 1% of the total of the European workforce.

Taking into account this current context of fierce and global competition for talent, the first session focused on the main European measure to respond to this competition by making research careers in Europe more attractive and sustainable. The EU Council Recommendation approved in December 2023, with the new European framework for research careers, although without legal force, has a strong political orientation for the work of the European Commission and particularly for the Horizon Europe Program and for the future Framework Program that will succeed it in 2028, as well as for Member States. Therefore, there is a strong impact on the format of the initiatives that are being taken around research careers across Europe.

One of the main messages of the session was that the operationalization of this new framework, given its scope, can only be successful if it results from the collective action of all the relevant actors, given that its implementation will bring about cultural and institutional changes which, given their structural nature, require time to achieve. The presentation of examples from Spain, the Netherlands and Belgium showed the diversity of approaches and the results already achieved, particularly in terms of reducing precariousness or structuring careers and new approaches to evaluating researchers.

Seal of Excellence in Human Resources

The second session was dedicated to the presentation of the Human Resources Strategy for research (HRS4R – Human Resources Strategy for Research ) and its respective implementation tool, the HR Excellence Seal, where elements with management positions in several research centers European researchers (including the Portuguese i3s) shared their experiences regarding this scientific assessment tool. This process is voluntary and intelligent in terms of certification, with specific characteristics that are essential to allow quality validation.

The European Commission's recommendations focus on four thematic areas: working conditions and social security, recruitment, training and career development, and ethical and professional aspects. In 2023, 114 organizations applied for HRS4R, an increase of 80% compared to 2022 - in Portugal there were only 8.

The session highlighted, in a very positive way, the importance of both the European Framework for Careers and the new Charter for Researchers, targeting the entire research and innovation system, that is, of involving both the public and private sectors. and non-profit, as well as the entire disciplinary range. The cases presented from the Polytechnic of Turin (Italy), the University of Galway (Ireland) and I3S (from the University of Porto), demonstrated the impact that this process had on their organizations, not only as a learning mechanism, but also as a mandatory path towards a better quality of human resources management, both with regard to researchers, but also those who carry out research support activities, such as management and technical and technological support, who generally do not have specific careers.

The official presentation of the pilot "Talent ecosystems for attractive initial research careers"

 

The third session was essentially dedicated to the first-hand presentation of the new Call experimental Talent Ecosystems for Attractive Early Careers for the promotion of research careers and a balanced circulation of talents across the European Research Area, as well as all talent support instruments that exist in the Horizon Europe Program such as ERA Talents , MSCA Calls and COST Actions calls .

Closure and main conclusions

The fourth session was led by Ricardo Migueis, head of the INESC Brussels Hub, and aimed to promote the exploration and consolidation of the sharing of experiences throughout the day, with a focus on possible ways forward. Several suggestions emerged from this session for creating greater knowledge about the new funding models to support research careers, namely to close the information gap between the different geographical levels and the local and national levels, or the proposal for greater involvement of researchers, or even the discussion about the necessary instruments to be included in the future framework program to support the development of research careers.

The INESC TEC researcher mentioned in the article is affiliated to INESC TEC and UP-FEUP.