!!Research Europe, 23 January 2014
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!!Raising their game
!Academia Europaea celebrated its 25th anniversary last year, but its impact on research politics is not what it could be. __Rebecca Hill__ spoke to the academy’s board members about their plans to boost its profile.
In 1988, six European academics, backed by the UK’s
Royal Society, founded Academia Europaea, a nongovernmental
association aimed at uniting Europe’s best
researchers, scholars and scientists. The idea was to create
a Pan-European voice on science and policy issues,
separate from the EU member states’ national academies.
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Today, despite having nearly 3,000 members and its
sights set on 2,000 more, the academy could, according
to its board members, do much more.
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“I don’t think Academia Europaea is as effective as
it could be at commenting on research policy issues,”
says vice-president Anne Buttimer, a geographer at
University College Dublin. “It should be able to speak for
Europe as a whole, but it’s not doing that at the moment;
it’s still finding its way.”
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Foreign secretary and Polish physicist Jerzy Langer
notes that the academy responds to specific public
policy issues through the European Academies Science
Advisory Council, of which it is a founding member. But
the academy is “qualified to address serious research
policy matters” separately, and needs to do more to gain
visibility in Europe, he says.
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President Lars Walløe, a physiologist at the University
of Oslo, will soon step down, with elections for his successor
taking place in May. He says one of Academia
Europaea’s biggest assets is having members from the
humanities and social sciences as well as the natural
sciences. “There are more problems faced by the social
sciences and humanities,” he says. “We need to take a
much more active approach in that field.”
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With that in mind, Academia Europaea is in talks with
Allea, the All European Academies group, and Easac,
which only deals with natural science, to develop a similar
body to Easac for the humanities and social sciences.
This would involve an independent panel looking at the
same issues as Easac but from a humanities and social
sciences perspective. The two groups would then meet
to discuss their findings. “A group focusing on these disciplines
doesn’t exist in Europe and it’s a real gap,” says
David Coates, executive secretary of Academia Europaea.
“We hope we’ll get something in place this year.”
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Meanwhile, Buttimer would like to see Brussels being
more sensitive to differences in political culture in the
28 member states. She hopes the academy can encourage
discussions about regional differences through its knowledge hubs, which were launched two years ago to
spread its activities across Europe.
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The hubs are in Wrocław, Poland, and Barcelona,
Spain. A third is scheduled to open in Bergen, Norway,
by May. Each focuses on issues specific to its region, with
the Barcelona base set to be the academy’s humanities
hub as part of the push to support the discipline.
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The academy aims to promote itself more effectively
across Europe and encourage more nominations for eastern
European members. Membership is particularly low in
eastern countries, with nearly half of all members based
in the UK, Germany and France. This is partly because the
western countries have a longer research tradition, with
more researchers eligible for membership. Additionally,
prospective members must be nominated by two existing
members. This poses a problem for eastern academics,
who may not be as well known outside their country
and are reliant on an already underrepresented group to
nominate them.
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Another goal for Academia Europaea is to spread the
costs of its work more evenly. The hubs are paid for with
regional or national funds, which Coates says are of particular
importance to offset a “very substantial” fall in
core funding from organisations such as the Royal Society
since the start of the economic crisis. The drop in core
funding hasn’t affected money for events, conferences
and workshops. This has always been sought on an ad hoc,
project-specific basis, he says. But the academy has had
to make other savings, for example by paring down the
staff in its London office.
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Academia Europaea brings in cash from membership,
but the annual subscription fee of €100 is not compulsory.
This decision was influenced by differing
attitudes across Europe, says Ole Petersen,
chairman of the nominations committee
and a biologist at Cardiff University. “There
isn’t the tradition of paying subscriptions in
continental Europe, which was a problem initially,”
he explains. “But it’s not possible to
sustain the academy without it, as we have
always said we don’t want to be completely
tied to the EU. Unlike for the national academies,
there is no government to support us.”
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Download the [document|RE379-AE1.pdf]