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Friday, December 5, 2008

Science in Europe, November, 2008

In today's edition:
  1. Interview: Life sciences need to enter ICT age
  2. MEPs back controversial scheme for 'highly-qualified' migrants
  3. Tech organisations question EU research funding
  4. Inclusive universities 'best placed to deliver'
  5. EU countries urged to embrace telemedicine
Today, I tried to cover different aspects of science in Europe. As a whole, the problem is no longer only financial. After Europe started to finance R&D more and more, the problem of bad management and legislation emmerged and those news are the obvious plea for help. They mostly short and I hope you find my comments valuable. Enjoy!

Interview: Life sciences need to enter ICT age

31 October 2008

Life scientists need to turn to ICT experts for computational modelling to simulate how living systems work and make new discoveries, argues a biologist in an interview with EurActiv.

Iain Mattaj, director general of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBLexternal ) and the European Bioinformatics Institute (EBIexternal ), believes there will be a rapid progress in life sciences "because basic biological research is exploding its capacity to generate data and information".

The explosion in the amount of data generated by the complexity of biological systems is such that "we will not be able to understand them fully by experimental methods," he said, highlighting the need for biomedical scientists to turn towards the ICT sector for help.

Examples of applications opened up may include knowledge about how genetic differences affect disease development, he said.

In order to understand how a cell, organ or whole organism works, "we have to be able to generate computational models of how biological systems work and then test experimentally whether the models are correct," he explained.

According to him, much better European data resource infrastructures are needed, as well as data collection, annotation, integration and distribution methods to handle and distribute the amounts of data produced, he underlined. That would require more financial support for the creation of data resources is needed in Europe, so that gathered information isn't lost. If information is to be shared, then "data standards have to be fixed" as well, and ways found to make clinical and medical information accessible to a large community of researchers, he added.source

My comment: I absolutely agree with mr. Mattaj. Computer modelling is the next logical step in research and it's stunning how underappreciated it is among some scientists. Thus the need of new data gathering and sharing resources, as well as new legal frame, common for all the member-states is obvious. It should be mentioned that the technology has already been developped more or less, so the only problem now is the infrastructure and legislation. And of course, money.

MEPs back controversial scheme for 'highly-qualified' migrants

5 November 2008

The European Parliament's civil liberties committee yesterday (4 November) approved the Blue Card scheme for highly-qualified migrants. The text sets minimum salary requirements at 1.7 times the national average wage.

The Blue Card scheme, a European Commission initiative to attract highly-skilled migrants to fill Europe's labour and skill gaps, has met with considerable support ever since it was first tabled in October 2007.

Most EU policymakers agree on the necessity of such a scheme to offset North American competition in the race for the best minds.

Nonetheless, it soon became clear that opinions differed wildly between member states and political parties as to the definition of 'highly-qualified labour'. The amended text approved by the committee contains a compromise definition which is bound to prove controversial.

Basic requirements include higher education qualifications – at least three years of study – or professional qualifications supported by at least five years of work experience.

Migrants will, however, have to secure a contract for 1.7 times the gross average wage of the country where they will be working before their arrival.

Parliament rapporteur Ewa Klamt (EPP-ED, Germany) sees this as a step in the right direction. Klamt explained that while in her native Germany there was a lack of 95,000 engineers, the education system could only produce 20,000, highlighting the need not to lose out on skilled migrant labour.

Yet a vocal minority is very critical. UK Green MEP Jean Lambert commented that while "the Blue Card initiative has real potential […], the vote in committee has signalled a half-hearted approach". "Measures such as migrant workers needing to earn 1.7 times the average salary put added restrictions on an already limited scheme," she explained.

With the Blue Card scheme now sailing through Parliament, the Commission will table three more proposals to facilitate the mobility of third country nationals in the next few months, targeting seasonal workers, remunerated trainees and intra-corporate transferees. source

My comment: Another article on the issue. I welcome their decision, and while UK may argue the minimum salary is too high, for me, it's obvious and needed. Scientists and specialist are not every-day workers that you can hire or minimum wages in order to fix your own market. We are qualified people that have invested in our education and skills and we should be respected as such. No matter if this fit the idea of the UK of immigrants-annoying, poor people that can be squeezed to the max and then thrown away.

Tech organisations question EU research funding

12 November 2008

Research and technology organisations (RTOs) have called on the European Commission to ensure that public money invested in EU research is distributed and intellectual property managed in a way that allows all key players to participate, including RTOs, SMEs and universities.

"R&D comes at an economic cost which must be covered," states the executive board of EARTO, an RTO trade association, in a declaration urging the Commission to rethink the 20% cap on reimbursement of overheads established for Joint Technology Initiatives (JTIs), the EU-wide public-private research partnerships. Another problem are the Intellectual Property Rights.

The "unrealistic" funding and IPR conditions are said to discourage many of the best research performers from participating in the JTIs' R&D programmes and hamper the achievement of the bloc's European Research Area and Lisbon objectives, which both require "constructive engagement of all key players," warns EARTO. source

My comment: Too many 3-letter words but the problem is clear- bad management of R&D that leads to slowing if not even stopping of crucial European problems. Why this is important? Because major scientific challenges require major funding and also, a good legal frame for the intellectual rights and patents. While it's questionable how bad is the funding, the problem with patents is old and very real. And while European member states are wondering how to best divide their reigning, patents are still not adequate to the speed and depth of current research.

Inclusive universities 'best placed to deliver'

18 November 2008

Universities that accept a broad range of students and offer lifelong-learning opportunities - specifically, those of Australia, the UK and Denmark - have the best higher education systems in terms of responding to economic and social challenges, according to Brussels-based think tank the Lisbon Council.

The study argues that overall, Australia, the United Kingdom and Denmark have the best tertiary education systems of the countries surveyed, ranking first, second and third respectively. This is because their universities accept the broadest range of students, both domestic and foreign, without lowering their educational standards. Inclusiveness attracts foreign students, which in turn gives countries an advantage in the global race for talent, the authors suggest. They also include adults, making them more competitive and qualified.

By contrast, Germany and Austria, which rank 15th and 16th respectively, suffer from the restrictiveness of their educational systems. source

My comment: No comment, really. I'm happy for those universities and I also think that the universities must be the focus of knowledge and qualification in all fields. But the problems with higher education are much more complicated to be discussed here and now.

EU countries urged to embrace telemedicine

10 November 2008

The European Commission is pushing EU member states to remove legal barriers to the provision of distance healthcare, potentially a very profitable new niche market for health in Europe.

Telemedicine allows for the monitoring at distance of health conditions, such as blood sugar levels or blood pressure, and can improve access to specialised treatment in remote areas where access to healthcare is difficult.

This new service market is also expected to contribute to economic growth, provided that market fragmentation and legal aspects are properly addressed to allow industry, and particularly SMEs, to seize the new market opportunities.

Earlier this month (4 November), the Commission adopted a CommunicationPdf external to support and improve access for citizens and healthcare professionals to telemedicine services in Europe.

The EU executive is proposing various concrete measures to be introduced by all relevant actors, but especially by member states, to address three types of challenge that are slowing down the take-up of services for care at distance:

  • Lack of confidence in and acceptance of telemedicine services;
  • lack of legal clarity, and;
  • technical issues related to facilitating market development.

According to the Commission, there is "limited evidence of the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of telemedicine services on a large scale". Therefore, it argues that awareness, confidence and acceptance of telemedicine by health authorities, professionals and patients still needs to be strengthened.

As for technical hurdles, the Commission underlines that the ability of providers to enable full connectivity with all geographical areas in the EU, including rural and ultra-peripheral regions, is "a prerequisite for the deployment of telemedicine". The solution to this would be to provide broadband access for all. Furthermore, the Communication notes that interoperability and standardisation are crucial for widespread take-up of the new technologies.

The EU executive underlines that regardless of the efforts in which itself and other stakeholders are willing to engage, "it is the member states' health authorities, primarily responsible for the organisation, financing and delivery of healthcare, that remain the principal actors with the ability to make telemedicine a reality". source

My comment: Now, if you read the Positions in the article, you'll find out what's all about-how to make sure that doctors will get paid for their distance work. This is an obvious question, that is up to the member-states, but which they simply don't want to solve. What's even more, the very idea of telemedicine will require a qualification of the medical staff to work with the eventual software-something that will be tough with older people. Not lastly, the technical issue is very realistic-the system should be heavily encrypted, to prevent the leaking of personal information, it should be multi-OS-because there's no reason why I should use Microsoft sh*t just to check with my GP. And there should be legal clarity about the responsibilities of both the doctor and the patient. As well as the scope of conditions it will cover. It's not so simple.

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