10 Years ‘European Charter for Researchers’ (Part 2/3 - The Charter's Intentions)
(May 26th, 2015) In 2005, the European Commission published the ‘European Charter for Researchers’. One of its main aims was to define scientific research as a recognised profession with a clear professional career structure. In March it celebrated its 10th anniversary, but has it achieved its aims?
Key points of the Charter and Code
In the EC recommendation text, the Charter and Code are preceded by an explanation of the reasoning behind the Charter (presented as 18 numbered points) and there are a further 13 specific recommendations to clarify the EC’s intentions.
Notably, these state that Europe must dramatically improve its attractiveness to researchers and strengthen the participation of women researchers (point 4);
that new instruments for the career development of researchers should be introduced to improve their career prospects in Europe (point 6); and that the “ultimate political goal of this Recommendation is to contribute to the development of an attractive, open and sustainable European labour market for researchers, where the framework conditions allow for recruiting and retaining high quality researchers in environments conducive to effective performance and productivity” (point 8).
It is also stressed that Member States should endeavour to offer researchers sustainable career development systems at all career stages, regardless of their contractual situation and of the chosen R&D career path. Furthermore, “they should endeavour to ensure that researchers are treated as professionals and as an integral part of the institutions in which they work” (point 9)
Calling for the creation of “a more transparent, open, equal and internationally accepted system of recruitment and career development”, it says Member States should “formulate and adopt their strategies and systems for developing sustainable careers for researchers.”
However, another major concern is mobility – that researchers should feel encouraged to move to other countries without losing out financially - “Particular attention should be paid to the portability of pension rights, either statutory or supplementary, for researchers moving within the public and private sectors in the same country and also for those moving across borders within the European Union. Such regimes should guarantee that researchers who, in the course of their lives, change jobs or interrupt their careers do not unduly suffer a loss of social security rights.”
The European Charter for Researchers itself is a set of “General Principles and Requirements” which specifies the roles, responsibilities and entitlements of researchers as well as of employers and/or funders of researchers. For researchers, the 12 general principles and requirements include points about “Professional Responsibility, Professional Attitude, Good Practice in Research, Ethical Principles and Accountability.” In effect, the general idea is that if researchers want to be treated as professionals they have to behave like professionals do in other professions.
What research employers should be doing
However, researchers rely for support on the institutions and companies that employ them. The main emphasis of the Charter is on the changes necessary at this level.
There are 19 General Principles and Requirements applicable to Employers and Funders starting with one that is considered central to many of the problems that researchers (especially PhDs and postdocs) currently face - “Recognition of the profession”. It clearly states that “all researchers engaged in a research career should be recognised as professionals and be treated accordingly. This should commence at the beginning of their careers, namely at postgraduate level, and should include all levels, regardless of their classification at national level (e.g. employee, postgraduate student, doctoral candidate, postdoctoral fellow, civil servants).”
Other points discuss fair evaluation and appraisal systems, complaints and appeals procedures. Significantly, the Charter also considers it normal that researchers should have “Participation in decision-making bodies”, i.e. that they should have a voice in decisions that affect them. “Employers and/or funders of researchers should recognise it as wholly legitimate, and indeed desirable, that researchers be represented in the relevant information, consultation and decision-making bodies of the institutions for which they work, so as to protect and promote their individual and collective interests as professionals and to actively contribute to the workings of the institution.”
Accompanying the Charter is the “Code of Conduct for the Recruitment of Researchers”. This document consists of ‘general principles and requirements’ that should be followed by employers and/or funders when appointing or recruiting researchers in order to “ensure observance of values such as transparency of the recruitment process and equal treatment of all applicants.”
There are 9 points in the Code. Notably, it discusses the thorny issue of “Postdoctoral appointments” - the short-term employment contracts between completion of a doctorate and the hope of more stable, long-term employment. The Code states that “Clear rules and explicit guidelines for the recruitment and appointment of postdoctoral researchers, including the maximum duration and the objectives of such appointments, should be established”. And emphasises that “the postdoctoral status should be transitional, with the primary purpose of providing additional professional development opportunities for a research career in the context of long-term career prospects.”
In part 3, to be published later this week, Jeremy Garwood looks at how well the Charter has succeeded in its first decade.