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To build a European R&I system that is sustainable and based on excellence, effective university leadership that centres people is crucial. For Senena Corbalán, EUA’s Research & Innovation Agenda 2027 demonstrates how academics, researchers, students, managers, technicians, and support staff are the agents of future transformation in universities.

Human capital plays a fundamental role in shaping the R&I landscape in universities. Therefore, we must understand that promoting key actions about people and their environment is necessary to make the R&I ecosystem attractive. Indeed, leadership in this area is a central theme in the European University Association’s Research & Innovation Agenda 2027. This includes fostering talent development, supporting professional growth and well-being, and advocating for investment in human resources and infrastructure, all of which are crucial elements to develop a positive shift towards a sustainable and effective R&I system in Europe, and universities are the pillars to lead this transformation.

Improving talent attraction and retention is essential to promote an active and innovative R&I ecosystem. To this end, it is important to design flexible career paths that allow the reconciliation of work and family life to create environments that attract a wide range of researchers. There is no denying that this requires substantial financial support and enabling actions. Offering competitive salaries, benefits, and research funding will attract and retain the best talent in the R&I sector. Moreover, this should be accompanied by enough resources and scientific-technical support, so that researchers can perform their work effectively and with a reduced administrative burden. This will encourage job satisfaction and long-term retention.

EUA’s R&I Agenda for 2027 also emphasises career development and support. We must recognise that research, teaching and learning, innovation, management and leadership, and service to society are all integral components of academic careers. Rewarding the experiences and competencies of researchers at different stages of their academic career progression will support their development and sustainable career paths while generating a breeding ground for knowledge generation. For this reason, EUA’s Agenda outlines efforts to continue working on equality, diversity, and inclusion. It also goes further, by considering the notion of belonging to broaden the concept and recognising the impact communities and society have on research and innovation.

The reform of research evaluation will significantly impact R&I activities in the coming years. It will do so by recognising diverse contributions beyond traditional metrics such as publications, leading to a more holistic assessment of individuals, institutions, and projects. Solving complex challenges will require inter- or transdisciplinary approaches, and researchers should be encouraged to work together to find innovative solutions and breakthroughs. Encouraging researchers to adopt the principles of Open Science will be beneficial in terms of increased collaborations, trust, and knowledge sharing. This will ultimately generate the appropriate ecosystem to foster a culture of innovation that will expand the frontiers of knowledge, leading to transformative discoveries and solutions to future societal challenges.

Moreover, trust in science is a fundamental element in the development of R&I, and this also hinges on the human capital of institutions. Policies that emphasise the importance of ethical conduct, transparency, and integrity in research and innovation activities should be facilitated within universities. As such, EUA’s R&I Agenda aims to strengthen trust in the scientific community and ensure the credibility and impact of R&I efforts by promoting responsible practices, combating misinformation, and fostering open dialogue with society.

In conclusion, we must develop effective leadership, within our institutions and throughout the sector, to drive a positive change, foster collaboration, and enhance the impact of R&I activities in universities across Europe.  Investing in staff development, career advancement, and support systems is essential, as human capital plays a critical role in driving R&I activities and shaping the future of the R&I ecosystem. By addressing these issues, institutions can create an enabling environment that nurtures talent, fosters innovation, addresses global challenges, and advances knowledge for the simple curiosity of knowing the fundamental mechanisms of the world and universe in which we live.

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Author

Senena Corbalán
University of Murcia

Senena Corbalán is Vice-Rector for Research at the University of Murcia, Spain, where she is also Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Since 2022, she has represented the Conference of Rectors of Spanish Universities (CRUE) in EUA’s Research and Innovation Strategy Group.

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