EU’s Horizon 2020 should pay researchers in Eastern Europe the same salaries as in Western Europe

The worrying brain drain from Eastern Europe and poor participation of scientists from the region in the EU’s research projects could be reversed if the scientists were paid salaries equal to those of their Western colleagues, a paper published this week (17 April) argues.

Such a move would come at a minimal cost to the EU’s research budget but would level the playing field, allowing the East to retain and even attract talent, says the paper in Journal of Health Services Research & Policy.

“Currently, Eastern European researchers are getting peanuts for working just as hard as Londoners and Scandinavians – oftentimes on the same projects,” a co-author of the paper, Michael Galsworthy from UCL in London, UK, tells Balkan Science Beat.

“The EU needs to stop patronising scientists in poorer countries with statements about ‘laggard’ countries and ‘not compromising excellence’ and offering charitable ‘structural funds’ as if it were a bonus, when in fact it masks underpayment,” he says.

“Rather, they should let the system be truly borderless and competitive – salaries included. That is what will provide fair competition, fire appetite in Eastern European science, stop brain drain, make the environment attractive, allow build-up of talent and ultimately make the difference.”

So far, researchers had to use local salaries when writing funding proposals – so, for example, the take home pay of a scientist in Slovenia would only be a third of that of their colleague in London working on a same project.

This pay difference is presumed to reflect living costs, but this is simply not the case as many countries cannot afford to pay their scientists at respectable rates and so the funding mechanism ignores the financial hardship of Eastern European researchers, the paper says. Such salaries reinforce the tilted playing field and fuel the brain drain.

Despite the EU’s acknowledgement of an east-to-west brain drain trend, this issue is hardly mentioned in impact assessments or proposals for EU’s next research funding framework starting in 2014, the Horizon 2020, the paper says.

“Paying equitably would let Eastern Europe use its competitive advantage of marginally lower living costs to retain and even attract top researchers, so that Principal Investigators can assimilate critical masses of young eager talent,” the paper says.

“Additionally, it encourages many more applications to EU projects and forces local funders to match those compensation rates. This is what EU science stimulation should be.”

And in the area of health research (where the Eastern European disadvantage is particularly strong) the cost to the budget would only be 2.5% to double all salaries to Eastern European researchers.

This is because in health research, most of the funds currently go to the original 15 EU member states, according to the EC’s own report: they received 34 times more health research funding under the FP7 than the newest 12 member states. This difference could not be accounted for by the differences in population size, GDP, or contributions to the budget. In fact, those 12 member states received less money from the FP7 than the ‘rest of the world’ group for health research, and their participation rates in EU projects has dropped since the FP6, despite their contributing to the common funding pool.

“I really doubt that the EC will respond to this until Eastern Europeans are shaking their fists about it. And I think Eastern Europeans scientists should,” he says. “Their own governments have let them down on this too.”

Galsworthy’s message to researchers and policymakers in the region is to raise awareness of the funds available, especially to SMEs.

“The EC wants to fund innovative small companies, but most companies starting up do not know of this big pot of money being prepared,” he says.

Another thing to do is to get universities and SMEs in Eastern European countries networking with each other and with leading Western EU institutions.

“Most of the EU funding now goes to large multinational projects and there is still kudos associated with having eastern / new countries on board,” Galsworthy says.

And they should also petition the EU to get extra ‘structural funds’ to set up the communication and network channels that will drive collaboration and funding applications.

Mićo Tatalović

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4 thoughts on “EU’s Horizon 2020 should pay researchers in Eastern Europe the same salaries as in Western Europe”

  1. You may also watch the full lecture of Dr. Galsworthy on Underfunding of Health Related Research in Eastern Europe here:


    Dr. Michael Galsworthy* from University College London held lecture at CLS symposium 29th October 2013 on the underfunding of health related research in Eastern Europe under the title:

    The Underfunding of Health Related Research in Eastern Europe within European Union Framework Programmes – Evidence, Consequences and Proposals for Reversing the Situation in Horizon 2020.

    Background: According to the European Commission’s Impact Assessment of Health Research Projects the original 15 member states had received 34 times more health research funding under FP7 than the 12 new members.

    If we wish to reverse this situation, now is the time to act and make our voice heard throughout the European Union. Therefore as first step we invited Dr. Galsworthy to present the current state and share possible solutions that remedy this regretful situation. The solution presented can be seen also as a new paradigm that may even out the gap between Western and Eastern Europe within the areas of health related research.

  2. Sorry a typo I have noticed. Correctly: 29th October 2013, the date of the lecture in Kosice, Slovakia. Admittance is free upon pre-registration. You know any journalist with multiplicator potential or member of European Parliement please forward this post to them.

  3. I just wrapped up a project in Dresden, Germany (see: I worked with a very talented Lithuanian-Russian student whose work ethic and knowledge of physics was far and above what I have seen in the vast majority of USA students. (I’m a USA citizen who did part of her photophysics PhD in the UK. I took the job in Germany to learn about how the Continentals do science.)

    The student was an undergrad at the time, and she had a better education than many Master’s- and even a few PhDs- that I have encountered. This was due at least in part because her government, while it might not be able to afford fancy biology incubators, pipettemen, sterilizers, expensive reagent kits for enzymatic digestions etc; could certainly afford chalkboards and good maths teachers.

    I also met Prof. Ehrlich (, who has very interesting ideas about scaffolding proteins in sponges and corals and various applications for the nanoscale-level templating these species exhibit. (I set up a collaboration with him to do Raman spectroscopy for analyzing the biomolecules present in various marine skeletons.) I believe he is originally from Kiev, if I recall correctly; but has been in Germany for a long time.

    These scientists, and others like them, are doing science in Germany instead of their home countries. The benefits of EU funding, along with money from patents generated from their research, goes to Deutschland, not their country of origin.

    There are many reasons for their leaving. However, it does strike me that one- as is pointed out- is likely the greater rewards that the Germans give their scientists.