Research Austerity

Welcome to this Special Issue of EuroScientist on: Research Austerity!

How well are scientists from Southern Europe weathering cuts?

Austerity has taken its toll on European research, and particularly on scientists from Southern Europe. In this special issue we bring you an analysis of the impact of such conditions on scientists who stayed and on those who were forced to emigrate. We also bring you testimonies of researchers sharing their experience of navigating the troubled waters of recession, when it comes to maintaining a seemingly steady research career path.

We would like to encourage other scientists, including those based beyond Southern Europe, to share their own experience by emailing their testimony and suggestions on how to improve the current situation to EuroScientist Editor.


An evolutionary tale of short versus long-term research vision

By Sabine Louët and Gilles Mirambeau, EuroScientist Editor and Molecular Biologist.


Southern European scientists become activists as recession bites

By default, science journalist.


Myths and misadventures of Spanish science

By Emilio Muñoz, Emeritus Research Professor at the Institute of Philosophy at CSIC.

The Government needs to show the world it believes in science

By Carlos Andradas, Professor of Algebra, Faculty of Mathematical Science, University Complutense of Madrid.

Uninformed wishful thinking as R&D policy shunts public research support

By Amaya Moro-Martín, astrophysicist and spokesperson of the grassroots movement of Spanish scientists, Investigación Digna.


Pervasive meritocracy, a must for Italian research, an exclusive interview of Ilaria Capua

By Sabine Louët, EuroScientist Editor.

Italian scientists highly valued, but only abroad

By Enrico Predazzi, Emeritus Professor of Theoretical Physics and Chairman of the Center Agorà Scienza – The University of Torino, Italy.

Reengineering Italian research

By Maria Cristina Pedicchio, President of OGS, the National Institute of Oceanography and Experimental Geophysics, University of Trieste, Italy.


Science friendly despite relative research immaturity

By António Coutinho, Member of the management committee of the Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência.

Filling up a glass that is already half-full

By Maria Carmo-Fonseca, Executive Director of the Institute of Molecular Medicine of Lisbon University, Portugal.

The knowledge capital of an entire generation in the balance

By Maria Mota, Group Leader, Malaria Unit, Instituto de Medicina Molecular (IMM), Faculdade de Medicina da Universidade de Lisboa, Portugal.


Against adversity, give Greek research breathing space

By Costas Fotakis, President – Foundation for Research and Technology, Hellas (FORTH).

Academics hired, but not appointed: a new Greek tragedy in the making

By Varvara Trachana, Assistant Professor of Cell Biology (elected, pending appointment for 2 years), Faculty of Medicine, School of Health Sciences, University of Thessaly, Greece.

Innovation born from austerity

By Nikolaos Nanas, Founder and CEO NOOWIT.

Letters to the Editor

Eastern European countries, such as Bulgaria, in dire need of EU support

By An academic from Bulgaria, .

Change needed for Spain to compete internationally

By Cristina Ortega, Assistant Professor, Spain.

Italian politicians unable to resolve the country’s problems, let alone scientists’ issues

By Benjamin Pushparaj, Research Associate, Italy.

As the crisis deepens in Portugal...

By Cândida Lucas, Associate Professor, Portugal.

Why do they call it austerity when they mean cuts?

By Javier Sánchez Perona, Ciencia Con Futuro.

Cumulating R&D cuts does not bode well for the future of Spain

By José de No and José Molero, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas – CAR (CSIC-UPM) and Universidad Complutense de Madrid.

Case study of brain drain from Spain to Germany: a reversible process?

By Guillermo Orts-Gil, Principal investigator at Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces in Berlin.

Featured image credit: Anton Balazh via Fotolia

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One thought on “Research Austerity”


    The problem is what will be; much more than what has been.

    Southern Europe countries are crossing a war-like time that will diminish them for the next generations. Research, whether it has been going on for 100 years or less, is not an intrinsic part of these countries cultural paradigm. It has lately become rationalized as intrinsic to economical development and richness, but the superficiality of such rationalization led to immediate denial as the crisis installed.

    In Portugal, the last 25 years meant a jump from nothing to everything. A vibrating scientific community developed through small but steady financial support covering all scientific areas. Since 2011, the situation degraded extremely fast. Governmental agency for funding science – FCT – decreased the financial support for research units in >30%. Calls for projects, while kept opening, reduced the probability of success to as low as ≤10%, and projects rated as excellent were not financed. Additionally, liquidity became erratic.

    Research in Portugal is almost exclusively done at Universities and associated R&D units. The global financial support for Universities decreased in ≥25%. This implicates many constraints, importantly, less human resources and insufficient support for teaching activities. Many defend that this contributes to more efficiency – less student cost – without critically compromising the quality of higher education service. The problem is that it ultimately reduces dramatically the weight of research activities in the workload of each researcher. But maybe worse is the steep regression in the autonomy of universities, which ongoing transition to foundations, that would have equipped them with management freedom for finding alternative ways of funding themselves, was abruptly interrupted. Together with universities, since 2011, research units within faced large bureaucratic impasses, particularly incompatible with EU projects. An example of these drawbacks is the so-called Law of Budget Equilibrium (Lei do Equilíbrio Orçamental) that criminalizes the members of the management councils if they do not maintain a balance each year identical to the year before, actually, as in December 2011.

    As much as researchers dismay towards FCT may be “saved” through EU funding, getting funded by EU demands itself for investment, which presently is difficult, unless you already have a EU project. Without proper national funding for research and universities, at the end of the day, laboratories and expensive equipment face aging/inadequacy or shutting down.

    So much about scientific knowledge and education being the building blocks of long-term economic growth! That is just empty rhetoric, in Portugal as in EU. The upcoming Horizon 2020 is going to finance mostly applied science, involving a large number of SMES, which makes one think whether EU is not actually financing economy through science budgets. The key word of this programme is innovation. But the oddest thing is that this is verbalized as springing out of a forced interaction between researchers and industrials. Science is therefore transformed into a short-term exquisite way of generating added value, or solving immediate problems of industrials unable to finance development on their own. ERC is predicted to have around 17% of the H2020 budget. Therefore, “blue science” is left for a few chosen afloat in Noah Arch …

    But there is worse: excellence. The concept per se has nothing wrong. Neither is it wrong to pursue and reward excellence. But in Portugal the quest for excellence became an obsession. FCT conveys the idea that, by a process of natural selection generated by researchers and research units’ scarce resources and extremely low funding success, only the excellent will survive, and public funds will finally be in well spent. But excellence does not grow like mushrooms after rain. It takes a favorable environment and years of large investments, updated infrastructures, a critical mass of people, and access to a long-lasting supply of promising post-graduation students, which in turn will not exist without a strong, creative and quality university scientific environment. In spring 2012, a survey to graduation students of all universities in Portugal, revealed that 85% were planning to emigrate after graduation or master.

    When a population size and genetic diversity is extremely reduced, you never know when you already passed the critical point of no return and face inevitable extinction. Politicians should study Biology.