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Interview with head of FCT in journal Nature

As the incoming president of Science Europe, Miguel Seabra, FCT president, talked to Nature on striking a balance between homogenisation and cooperation in research across Europe. Underscoring Science Europe’s role as the “third voice” (alongside national governments and the European Commission) in the discussion on fostering the European Research Area (ERA), Miguel Seabra explained that the group’s view is that “diversity of systems is an asset and not a liability”, so that “ we [Science Europe] are not of the view that we should construct some sort of federalised, homogenised, centralised, European research system”.

The interview took place during the third annual meeting of the Global Research Council, where more than 60 research and research funding organisations, including FCT, discussed measures for a common basis for the funding of early career researchers and for open access to scientific publications. Asked about open access to research publications and data, Miguel Seabra stressed its indisputable importance for the advancement of science, but highlighted issues of flexibility in the approaches that are adopted, quality of repositories and cost. Science Europe is well aware of these issues, and takes the approach “to understand the other side and not be in a position of arrogance.”

On how the Portuguese research system is coping under austerity, Miguel Seabra explained that “since 2011, we [FCT] have been able to pay out the same amount of money or slightly more because of very hard work to better use the one-third of the FCT budget that comes from European structural funds for science”. According to the FCT head, this better use of funds will contribute to the challenge of growing in quality, after 10 to 20 years of undeniable growth in quantity. Funding calls are becoming increasingly competitive, “in the context of the [financial] crisis and the research community growing exponentially each year”. FCT has been working to introduce stricter rules, in line with international best practices in peer review, to ensure ever greater transparency and rigour in evaluation procedures.

Science Europe represents 52 Research Funding and Research Performing Organisations from 27 countries, with a combined annual research budget of €30 billion. Founded in October 2011, its aim is to promote the collective interests of members and provide them with a platform to collaborate at both policy and activity level. As of September 2014 Miguel Seabra will take over as President of Science Europe from Paul Boyle, Chief Executive of the UK Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). The President of Science Europe is elected by the General Assembly, for a term of two years.