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This month the Directorate General for Research of the European Commission released a new report on "Social Security, Supplementary Pensions and New Patterns of Work and Mobility: Researchers’ profiles". The report was produced by an expert group which had been commissioned to look into the main obstacles researchers face while internationally mobile. The experts were also tasked to put forward a number of recommendations on how to remove, or at least ameliorate, such obstacles. The study was based on an extensive literature review, a “real case survey” of researchers in institutes across all European countries (via the EURAXESS portal), as well as face-to-face and telephone interviews with research funders and experts.
The main conclusion of the report is that the international mobility of researchers is very often hampered by obstacles that have to do with their social protection, i.e. hindrances linked to social security. These problems seem to be determined by three basic characteristics of this category of mobile people: the variety of statuses held by researchers and the statutes that govern their employment; the very frequent and short-term character of their international mobility; and the unique situation of early-stage researchers, many of whom are not covered by social insurance either in the home or in the host country. A number of associated challenges were also identified, namely: differences in the provision of supplementary pension rights between countries, the difficult position of third-country researchers who often do not enjoy the same treatment as European researchers, and the complicated situation of dependant family members. Finally, there seems to be a lack of correct and ‘client oriented’ information on these important issues.
In addition to identifying the problems, the experts also put forward a number of recommendations. These generally concern the improved coordination of EU regulations, where proposals are made for further alignment and inclusiveness. Importantly, the experts clearly stress that it is impossible to draw clear-cut solutions for ALL researchers, given also that the very definition of a “researcher” is a matter for debate. Still, the experts recommend that priority should be given to removing obstacles for those researchers working in accredited higher education institutions and in recognised research institutes,.
Ultimately, achieving success on these fronts will very much depend on the ability to muster real commitment and “political will”, both at the national and European level.