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Potocnik offers Greece advice on how to stem brain drain

Greece needs to invest more in research, infrastructures and reward systems in order to safeguard its most precious commodity: its researchers, EU Science and Research Commissioner Janez Potocnik has said. Speaking at the Greek Parliament, the Commissioner spoke of the coun...

Greece needs to invest more in research, infrastructures and reward systems in order to safeguard its most precious commodity: its researchers, EU Science and Research Commissioner Janez Potocnik has said. Speaking at the Greek Parliament, the Commissioner spoke of the country's longstanding leadership in knowledge creation and science. 'Greece has centuries or even millennia of experience and expertise. And this stretches up to modern times. For example, the late Micheal Dertouzos, former Director of MIT's Laboratory for Computer Science and an excellent innovator, was a graduate of Athens college,' he said. Another modern-day leading Greek scientist is Fotis Kafatos, who is heading the Scientific Council of the new European Research Council. 'But if we look at the career of Professor Kafatos, it shows us what has been happening around Europe. A brilliant biologist from Crete - and Europe - we lost him in his early years to the US,' noted the Commissioner. His story is what some have described in Greece as the 'Greek paradox', referring to the many excellent Greek researchers abroad, but few remaining in the country itself. The Greek Government has started to investigate ways of attracting researchers back, with fora organised in both the US and Europe to link up Greek researchers. 'I think this is an important step. Because keeping and attracting talent is one of the main challenges for countries and companies around the world,' said the Commissioner. Along with three other Member States, the country has also agreed to transpose the EU law on scientific visas into national law, making it easier for non-Greek researchers to live and work in the country. The US is also under pressure to relax its visa restrictions to attract the best foreign talent and to ensure that US students can work with this talent. 'In other words, the rest will follow the best. And, like in the US, if we do not keep the best in Europe, they will go elsewhere,' said Mr Potocnik. But visas are just part of the solution. What is also needed is more investment Although Greece has already shown increasing growth in research and development investment, the level is still very low, standing at 0.61% of overall GDP. The Greek progress report on reaching the EU goal of spending 3% of GDP on R&D by 2010 gives a more realistic target for Greece of 1.5%. The Commissioner welcomed the lively debate which has been underway over recent months in Greece on investment levels in education, but warned against placing investment in research and education second to improving financial and budgetary balance. 'I feel this is a false division. Of course, one has to take care of sound public finances, but in the world we live in today, I believe there is no better investment in the future of the economy, no better way of supporting growth and creating quality jobs, than to invest heavily in the research and education system,' argued Mr Potocnik. Building coordinated research infrastructures is also key to attracting the best Greek and non-Greek researchers. The Commissioner thanked the Greek Government for its support and commitment, especially to the roadmap set up by the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures, and welcomed the country's interest in hosting one of the projects. He also applauded efforts to build national research infrastructures. 'Nationally, the new Greek national roadmap for research infrastructure presented at the end of March is an important step forward in coordinating infrastructure development,' he noted. Another way to retain researchers is through establishing effective reward systems. 'By improving rewards for researchers, they in turn bring bigger and better rewards to their country through their knowledge,' surmised Mr Potocnik. Lastly, a change in the mentality towards science and research is needed. 'This is a problem not just for Greece, but for many countries in Europe. The EU needs a more innovative mentality. And this means understanding that we all need to work together, from beginning to end of the knowledge chain,' said the Commissioner.

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Greece