Spain votes through overhaul of research careers

30 Aug 2022 | News

To increase job security, early career researchers will be offered permanent contracts

Diana Morant, Minister of Science and Innovation. Photo: Borja Puig de la Bellacasa, Fotobpb. 

Spain is about to overhaul its research career structures, after the Congress of Deputies approved the final version of a reform to the country’s 2011 science, technology and innovation law last week.

The reform introduces a new type of indefinite work contract for all types of researchers, greater job security for postdocs, recognition of experience gained abroad, and at the same time, gives a boost to public spending on research.

Job security for researchers has been on a downward curve since the 2008 financial crash triggered major cuts to the country’s research budget. Between 2011 and 2016 alone, Spain is estimated to have lost more than 5,000 research positions.

While both the Parliament and the Senate supported the reform, there were disagreements over whether the new labour rights should extend to researchers financed using European funds, in particular, the EU’s €95.5 billion Horizon Europe research programme.

Before approving the final bill last month, the Senate introduced a clause allowing temporary contracts for European-funded researchers.

The amendment received support from directors of the country's leading research centres who had argued that if researchers funded with EU money were given permanent contracts these contracts would have to be terminated once a European project ended. Under the new rules, that would cost the institutions much more, because severance pay is set to rise from 12 to 20 days of salary per year worked.

But despite the support of leading research institutions, last week, the Senate gave way, allowing the Parliament to vote through the version of the bill that gives permanent contracts to researchers hired on European projects.   

Postdoctoral researchers will be offered contracts of up to six years, after which they will obtain a new type of certificate that will make it easier to secure a permanent contract in public research organisations and universities.

Those that gained experience abroad will now also find it easier to come back or move to Spain, as their achievements will be recognised in the country.

Bigger budget, less bureaucracy

In addition to revamping research careers, the bill will give a boost to the research budget, setting out to increase public research spending to 1.25% of GDP in 2030. The commitment will reinforce the country’s goal to beef up overall public and private research funding to 3% of GDP by the end of the decade, in line with the EU-wide goal set by ministers back in 2020.

In 2020, public and private spending on research in Spain stood at 1.4% of GDP, significantly below the 2.3% EU average, but the country has been actively using EU recovery funds to give the budget a necessary boost.

There are also measures to ensure better gender balance in the research community. Following in the footsteps of Horizon Europe, Spain will now require public research institutions to have and annually evaluate institutional gender plans as well as protocols against sexual harassment and gender or sexual oriented based discrimination.

Other measures include reforms aimed at reducing the administrative burden in the R&D sector, reinforcing knowledge transfer and facilitating public procurement of innovation.

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