Skip to main content

EU2014 Conference on the Empowerment of the Next Generation of Researchers - “Promoting talents, spreading excellence”

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ENGRes2014 (EU2014 Conference on the Empowerment of the Next Generation of Researchers - “Promoting talents, spreading excellence”)

Reporting period: 2014-08-01 to 2015-05-31

The aim of the project was to raise awareness of challenges associated with the training of the next generation of researchers and allow the sharing of best practices in the area of research career development that ensure excellent and innovative research training as well as attractive career and knowledge-exchange opportunities through cross-border and cross-sector mobility of researchers, to better prepare the next generation of researchers for current and future societal challenges.
Organising an international conference under the Italian EU Presidency 2014 on the concept of “Empowerment” of the next generation of researchers, where relevant issues such as training, recruitment and career development have been addressed, have fulfilled this purpose.
The project, comprised by one partner the Ministry of Education, Universities and Research (MIUR), the sole beneficiary, and an associated Third Party, the Autonomous Province of Trento (PAT), started on 1 august 2014.
The conference, bearing the title EU2014 Conference on the Empowerment of the Next Generation of Researchers “Promoting talents, spreading excellence” (ENGRes2014), took place in the city of Trento on 18-19 November 2014, organized by the MIUR in collaboration with the PAT and other local Public Bodies, in particular the University of Trento.
The Conference and associated programmed activities have been included among relevant events of the semester Agenda, in line with the main priorities of the Italian Presidency.
In particular, a focused discussion on the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions, with specific attention to the relationship between academy and industries, training and career paths, mobility and employability, was considered extremely timely in this period of economical crisis.

Around 250 participants, including 20 speakers and moderators, from the European Commission or representing other policy makers at European, national and regional level, Marie Curie fellows, alumni, universities and other research organisations as well as business leaders gathered to address issues like how a truly open European labour market for researchers can become reality, how talent can be nurtured to grow into excellence, how train and retrain the scientific workforce in dialogue with industry, how it is possible to unlock the full potential of new researchers and achieve the economic and societal goals of Europe 2020.
Approximately one hundred (peak of connections on the opening day) virtual participants joined the conference from remote by connecting to the dedicated video-streaming channel.
The conference hosted the Award Ceremony for the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions Prizes for 2014. Past and present Marie Curie Fellows have been invited to apply. The prizewinners - decided by an eminent jury - have been awarded in three different categories: Promising Research Talent, Communicating Science, and Nurturing Research Talents. 


The conference has been structured over 1 day and a half and organized as plenary sessions: Welcome and Introductory session, Keynote Addresses, four Workshops, a Panel discussion and a Closing Session aimed at summing up the key discussions with a view to provide a concrete contribution to the on going implementation of the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions Strategy.
Keynote speeches aimed at updating the participants to the achievements of the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions and to current status of the ERA and EHEA, as well as with the follow up of the initiative of the European Parliament for a “Maastricht for research”. Then, four plenary sessions addressed the following topics:
- Training and supporting researchers in a changing world;
- Multi-sectoral career paths: promoting and assessing the Professional Development;
- Attractive working and social security conditions in Europe for ANY talented researcher;
- A win-win collaboration between academia and beyond;

The conference programme has been optimised to incorporate, at the end of the first day, the Award Ceremony for the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions Prize for 2014.
Finalists of MSCA Prizes have been invited to contribute to a Poster session on Tuesday 18 November presenting their research activities as MSCA fellows.

Particular attention has been devoted to the speakers’ selection, chosen among high level representatives of most relevant Policy Groups, Institutions and Organisations in Higher Education or Research and Private Sector at European level, including European Commission and its Policy Groups.
Speakers have been invited to contribute to the specific topic of their session, keeping in mind that the overall theme of the conference was to discuss and reflect on how programmes for researcher training, recruitment and career development empower the next generation of researchers to be successful, with particular attention to the role of policy-makers, funders and businesses contributing to research training.

All areas covered in the project context helped towards an effective acquirement of awareness by all stakeholders about the development of a new generation of empowered researchers circulating in Europe, appropriately skilled to favour the creation of a merit-based single labour market of knowledge-research and innovation.
The intensive discussions and diffusion of best practices at the Trento Conference generated a diverse impact on different categories of stakeholders:
- academic stakeholders and also doctoral candidates increased the awareness of the need of evolution in doctoral training in order to better respond to demands of society and economy
- policy shapers recognised the importance of appropriate reforms and new regulations in different European countries to facilitate the implementation of structured doctoral programmes, of cross-border and cross-sector mobility, and of a legal recognition of multi-sectoral career paths
- entrepreneurs and industrial managers reinforced the awareness of the great benefit of the partnership in research with universities, or other research institutions, to develop active collaboration of talented researchers for an efficient transfer of knowledge in support of industrial innovation.
On 1 august 2014 the ENGRes2014 project officially started with duration of 10 months.
In order to properly achieve the proposal objectives and to assure that different tasks are handled in the most effective way, the project has been structured into 4 work packages:
- WP1 assured coordination of the whole project activities to be carried out under WP2, WP3 and WP4 and guaranteed timely report to and consult with the European Commission;
- WP2 coordinated the development of a successful programme and assured that the conference fulfilled the listed objectives;
- WP3 played a key role in raising awareness, guaranteeing an extensive communication effort on the event, throughout the preparation phase and during the event also assuring that speakers and audience responded to proposal objectives, in terms of relevant stakeholders as well as of a broad European coverage. It provided thorough dissemination of the conference’s results and outputs;
- W4 ensured a smooth-running event.

MIUR was responsible for the coordination and completion of the project and has been the leader of all work packages. As the project coordinator and administrator, MIUR has been the sole point of entry for the European Commission, guaranteed backing from the political level, provided an in-depth knowledge of the political climate in the EU, and ensured close coordination between the proposed conference and other activities during the Italian EU presidency.
Nevertheless, to ensure the best possible conference, MIUR has invited PAT to collaborate in the project as a third party.
Other actors, in particular the University of Trento (UniTN) played an important function in the project: the University (a Public University funded by PAT) has hosted the conference and provided administrative personal. The conference took place in the very modern and well- equipped university premise conveniently located in centre of Trento, close to the train station and the main hotels. The conference facilities have been established recently and are fully equipped and up to date with relevant IT and media facilities.
Other public bodies on the territory contributed to the organisation of the event: for instance the graphic arts Institute “Istituto Pavoniano Artigianelli per le arti grafiche” joined with the development of the logo and more in general of the conference’s corporate identity (common graphic solution for posters, leaflets, web site etc.) following the results of a contest launched among the art schools and academia in Trento.

The project’s organization has been structured around a Planning Group comprises by representatives of MIUR and PAT. The Planning Group handled tasks concerning content, format and output of the conference, the contact to speakers as well as other aspects related to the implementation of the event. Ad-hoc sub-working groups have been established by the Planning Group.
In particular, to ensure the highest scientific level of the project, elaborate effectively the format of the conference and the content of the different sessions and identify most appropriated speakers, a sub-group was established for the preparation of the conference programme with the support of an Experts Group appointed by MIUR.

A number of meetings of the Planning Group have been organized. In particular video-conferences meetings with the Experts Group were held on a weekly basis until the conference programme was finalised.

Organizational aspects have been coordinated by the MIUR with crucial logistics support on site by the PAT. Main activities included:
- the set up of procedures for the selection of suppliers and purchasing of goods and services, in particular the travel agency services, including accommodation and transfers for speakers, catering, promotional material, IT services, venues for the conference and for social events
- coordination of the communication strategy for promoting the conference to potential stakeholders. Preferred channel for communication has been the conference website containing all relevant information regarding the event. Flyer or announcements have been distributed through ad-hoc mailing lists or published on institutional websites and portals.

Video-streaming of the whole event has been provided by the University of Trento IT service. Participation to the conference has been extended over the capacity of the venue up to approximately one hundred (peak of connections on the opening day) virtual participants.

EU2014 European Commission Conference “The Empowerment of the Next Generation of Researchers: Promoting talents, spreading excellence”, was opened on 18 November 2014 by the Italian Minister for Education, University and Research Ms. Stefania Giannini, the Director General of the Directorate-General for Education and Culture Mr. Xavier Prats Monné and authorities of Autonomous Province of Trento that welcomed the participants to the conference.

During the 1 day and a half of conference the Keynote Addresses, Workshops and Panel discussion gave participant the opportunity to reflect on how programmes for researcher training, recruitment and career development empower the next generation of researchers to be successful and to share best practices that ensure excellent and innovative research training as well as attractive career and knowledge-exchange opportunities through cross-border and cross-sector mobility of researchers, the better to prepare the next generation of researchers for current and future societal challenges.

Several key conclusions and recommendations emerged from the Conference, including the final Panel Discussion aimed at providing a unified view on what is believed to be most urgent to fully implement the ERA. To summarise:

ENDORSING THE POLICY INITIATIVES AND FINANCIAL PILLARS OF ERA
The conference firmly endorsed the EU policy commitments to the completion of the European Research Area (ERA). Many examples were given of instruments that are enabling the achievement of the ERA priorities, in particular under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA).
- It is recommended that the European Council continue its policy-making initiatives for the creation of an open market for researchers and continues monitoring the compliance by the Member States.

There is general agreement about needs to improve the performance of the national research systems.
- It is suggested that the cooperation between the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) and the European Research Area (ERA) be further encouraged in order to accelerate and incentivise the take up of the principles for innovative doctoral training by the Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) across Europe.

It is recognized that the financial pillars in Horizon 2020 in general and in the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions in particular are instrumental for ERA. MSCA enable the implementation of good practices for sustaining excellence through mobility of researchers between countries and between research institutions, business sector, public administration, and other potential employers.
- It is recommended that national research systems integrate into their research evaluation and research implementation the principles and the practices inspired by the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions.

ENHANCING OPPORTUNITIES AND EMPOWERING RESEARCHERS
It is acknowledged that there are many opportunities for researchers under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions as a flagship programme for researchers’ training.
- It is suggested that more efforts should go into enhancing visibility of the scientific, policy and social value of projects and initiatives funded under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions, among prospective doctoral candidates, future employers and general public.

The conference recognises the importance of the general principles and requirements enshrined in the European Charter for Researchers and Code of Conduct for the Recruitment of Researchers for empowering researchers and creating an efficient European research labour market. Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions have long required compliance and now under Horizon 2020 it has become a requirement for EU funding.
- It is suggested that HEIs that are implementing the Charter and Code and are offering attractive working and employment conditions for researchers should be encouraged and rewarded for their efforts also under the national research funding schemes.

EURAXESS remains the gateway for any mobile researcher in Europe. However, it is observed that advertising research jobs may not be sufficient for ensuring open recruitment.
- It is suggested that examples of good recruitment procedures be evidenced and research institutions across Europe be incentivized to apply them.

It is observed that doctoral candidates do not have sufficient insight into their career prospects in research institutions and in businesses and public administrations. The overwhelming majority of graduates will be employed outside academia. On the one hand, not all HEIs are equipping their doctoral candidates with the right skills to make them attractive to employers outside academia; on the other hand, early stage researchers are not well informed about the work opportunities outside academia.
- It is put forward for consideration to HEIs to guide doctoral candidates towards identifying their career paths and shaping their expectations according to their affinities and talents, and also taking into account the work opportunities outside academia. HEIs should assume the main responsibility for creating clear career paths.
- Researchers should know early in their career what opportunities are there for their future employment. Standards applied by the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions for addressing career plans during the PhD research can serve as a model for HEIs and early stage researchers.

Mobility is most empowering in early stages of research career. However, an open labour market for researchers requires that all barriers to mobility between countries be removed including lack of adequate pension arrangements.
- It is suggested that transferability of pension contributions will help research institutions to attract best researchers, and would remove one of the obstacles to researchers’ mobility.


RECOGNIZING THE VALUE OF MOBILITY FOR CAREER ADVANCEMENT
It is noted that mobility between countries and between sectors is not sufficiently valorised in the national systems and in HEIs as a contribution to career advancement. It is quite rare for researchers from industry to be involved in teaching and research in academia, or to move back to academia after having worked in the business sector.
- It is suggested that the evaluation for funding and criteria for career advancement across Europe be aligned with the value of mobility, acknowledging also that training and research in the industrial sector is not of lesser quality than training and research in academia.


SUSTAINING AND SCALING UP MOBILITY
It is noted that Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions are oversubscribed and that many excellent projects and initiatives are not funded due to budgetary constraints.
- It is suggested that national research funding should be used to draw on the model of good practice of Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions for scaling up mobility and attracting best researchers.


STRUCTURING EFFECTS OF THE RESEARCHER MOBILITY
Promoting mobility of researchers and creating an open market for researchers contribute to the internationalization of research and “jointness” in doctoral training. They are powerful instruments for the completion of ERA. Benefits for ERA compliant institutions are well documented.
Testimonials from the former Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellows demonstrate that many are open to circular migration and are willing to transfer knowledge to their country of origin. However, many encounter obstacles embedded in closed, non-competitive models of traditional academia, slow and complex national bureaucracies, and low quality of the research environment.
- It is suggested that creating pockets of excellence in countries and regions, which are lagging behind in quality research and innovation, is a good forward-looking and feasible strategy to attract best researchers.


DOCUMENTING THE SCIENTIFIC, POLICY AND SOCIAL VALUE OF EMPOWERED RESEARCHERS
There is increasing quest for more value in research and societal impact. This is justified by increased accountability of research funding agencies but also by needs to assess progress with respect to policy objectives.
- It is suggested that the ERA monitoring mechanisms are valuable for forward looking and identifying where structuring efforts should be directed. Developing mechanisms for monitoring the value and impact of researcher’s mobility on their employability and longer-term career advancements and achievements are also recommended.
The conference was designed to discuss and reflect on how programmes for researcher training, recruitment and career development empower the next generation of researchers to be successful, regardless of how society and the economy evolve.
Key elements explored from this angle included skills, mobility, and gender, as well as the interaction between academia and industry sectors. The conference focused on the roles of policy-makers, funders and businesses contributing to research training, working together with universities and research institutions.
The aim was to promote common initiatives and share best practices that ensure excellent and innovative research training as well as attractive career and knowledge-exchange opportunities through cross-border and cross-sector mobility of researchers, the better to prepare the next generation of researchers for current and future societal challenges.

Therefore, its main expected impact was the acquirement of awareness by all stakeholders about the development of a new generation of empowered researchers circulating in Europe, appropriately skilled to favour the creation of a merit-based single labour market of knowledge-research and innovation.
Remarkably, the impact of this conference on all engaged stakeholders has been boosted up by the consecutive Presidency event at the University of Padova (www.interdoc2014.it) with focus on tools, instruments and practices for international, interdisciplinary and inter-sectoral doctoral training. This event, in fact, with the active participation of the EUA-Council for Doctoral Education, complemented and expanded upon some of the topics of the Trento Conference, enriching the debate with a detailed analysis of case studies of programmes and practices for doctoral research training and how they can be more effective to enhance career opportunities of young researchers and knowledge-exchange opportunities through discipline cross-fertilization and cross-border and cross-sector mobility.

The conference has been designed such that audience, and discussions, were guided through a path that led to the ambitious task of the Panel Discussion: Provide a unified view on what is believed to be most urgent to fully implement the ERA.
In this sense, the concept of “empowered researcher” has been the fil-rouge running through the different sessions for analysing and debating coherently critical issues such as training researchers in a changing world, multi-sectoral career paths, working and social security conditions in Europe, collaboration between academia and beyond.
More in general, the concept of “empowered researcher” has been identified, and proposed, as a synthesis of the objectives of the European policies for higher education and training, mobility, research career development and intersectoral collaboration.

During the conference much was said about ERA priorities, which are all important. Especially, since an open labour market for researchers particularly concerns researchers, the empowerment of the next generation of researchers will clearly benefit from the achievement of the ERA priorities.

With the aim of maximizing the results and the impact of the panel discussion, it was considered mandatory to focus the discussion on what is believed to be most urgent to fully implement the ERA, guiding the discussion by addressing four main questions to panellists:
- with reference to the four career profiles (R1-R4) defined by the ERA Steering Group Human Resources and Mobility (ERA SGHRM) in 2011, do you consider that this framework is applicable to both public and private research systems and do you think that the generalised adoption in Europe of the four profiles can be effective for realising a seamless intersectoral mobility?
- do you think that intersectoral mobility of researchers can be the catalyst for a more effective transfer of technology and competences between academia and the private sector, especially SMEs and also ensure that academia is exposed to the needs of SMEs?
- brain drain is a serious concern in several Member States. How can the policies and funding instruments of Horizon 2020 (e.g. spreading excellence and widening participation) and the European structural and investment funds be exploited to promote brain circulation and mitigate brain drain?
- can you offer three keywords to designate an empowered researcher?

All areas covered in the project context helped towards an effective acquirement of awareness by all stakeholders about the development of a new generation of empowered researchers circulating in Europe, appropriately skilled to favour the creation of a merit-based single labour market of knowledge-research and innovation.
Nevertheless, the intensive discussions and diffusion of best practices at the Trento Conference generated a diverse impact on different categories of stakeholders:
- academic stakeholders and also doctoral candidates increased the awareness of the need of evolution in doctoral training in order to better respond to demands of society and economy
- policy shapers recognised the importance of appropriate reforms and new regulations in different European countries to facilitate the implementation of structured doctoral programmes, of cross-border and cross-sector mobility, and of a legal recognition of multi-sectoral career paths
- entrepreneurs and industrial managers reinforced the awareness of the great benefit of the partnership in research with universities, or other research institutions, to develop active collaboration of talented researchers for an efficient transfer of knowledge in support of industrial innovation.

To maximise the impact, the communication and dissemination plan aimed at optimizing the mix of communication channels utilized, including a website, flyers and visibility through press coverage of key events to promote the Conference agenda and detailed programme of activities.
First of all, being an event of the Italian Presidency 2014, the MSCA 2014 Conference was included among relevant events of the semester Agenda and promoted through the official channels of the Presidency.
Press releases have been produced covering the main messages to be communicated and relevant background material, to create awareness of the event.
In particular, since the Conference incorporated the Award Ceremony for the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions Prize for 2014, the Italian press have been mobilised to cover the event, which has been followed by a press conference.
Other opportunities for complementing the communication initiatives have been presentations and communication at political level in the framework of the Italian Semester of Presidency of the Council of EU such as the Communication of the Italian Minister at the Competitiveness Council of 26 May 2014 (“Presentazione del Programma della Presidenza italiana del Consiglio dell’Unione Europea nel settore della ricerca e innovazione”) or the presentation of the programme of the Italian Presidency (“Presentazione del Programma della Presidenza italiana del Consiglio dell’Unione Europea alla Commissione Industria, Ricerca e Energia del Parlamento Europeo”). In both cases the MSCA 2014 Conference was explicitly mentioned.

To extend the participation at the event, such to respond to the large number of people that shown interest to the event (around 370 applied for the pre-registration), the video-streaming of the whole event has been provided.
Approximately one hundred (peak of connections on the opening day) virtual participants have joined the conference from remote by connecting to the dedicated video-streaming channel.
Furthermore, the live recording of the video streaming of the conference and of the MSCA Prizes Award ceremony have been published on the conference website.

The MSCA2014 Conference “ENGres2014” received large media coverage at national and regional level with several articles on newspaper and digital media, including an extensive interview on the leading national economic newspaper with the moderator of the Panel Discussion Fulvio Esposito and with the coordinator of the conference Luciano Catani.

A detailed post-conference report has been drawn up by an experienced rapporteur and finalised with the contribution of speakers and moderators. It aims at summing up the discussions and reporting statements of the conference and underlining its recommendations and key conclusions to be disseminated widely among relevant stakeholders.
Report will be both a valuable reference for ENGRes2014 participants and other stakeholders in higher education and career development and an inspiring collection of experiences, good practices and instruments for Policy Groups, Higher Education and Research Institutions or Organisations and the Private Sector engaged in the empowerment of the next generation of researchers.

The Report of Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions 2014 Conference is available on line at the conference website. The announcement of its publication has been circulated through the conference mailing list.
It will be supported for additional months to provide continuity with the next MSCA conference.