Researcher mobility opportunities at COST - Interview with Ursula Castro, Head of the Policy and Communications department at The European Cooperation in Science and Technology

POLICY ANSWERS conducted an interview with Ursula Castro, who currently heads the Policy and Communications department at The European Cooperation in Science and Technology (COST). During the interview, she discussed the various mobility opportunities that COST offers to researchers. Ms Castro has been working in COST since 2010. She holds a degree of political science specialised in International relations from the University Complutense of Madrid. From 1999 until 2007 she worked in the European Commission as a member of Commissioner’s cabinets: Manuel Marin on international relations, Pedro Solbes and Joaquín Almunia on economic and monetary affairs.

PA: How does COST contribute to the mobility of researchers?

UC: The European Cooperation in Science and Technology is an intergovernmental funding organisation for research and innovation networks with a membership of 43 countries. Our mission is to provide networking opportunities for researchers and innovators in order to strengthen Europe’s capacity to address scientific, technological and societal challenges.

We implement our mission by funding bottom-up, excellence-driven, open and inclusive networks for peaceful purposes in all areas of science and technology, the so-called COST Actions. Within these networks, a wide variety of networking tools are available for researches and innovators to connect and collaborate with peers across Europe.

PA: What are the specific features of mobility within a COST Action compared to other mobility opportunities?

UC: COST Actions are selected solely based on excellence criteria, but after the selection phase, any researcher in Europe can join even without being part of the group of proposers. This ensures equal opportunities and representation for all members of the scientific community, regardless of their background, geographical origin, gender, or other personal characteristics. By promoting Inclusive Excellence, our European research networks aim to create a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive scientific community, where all members can fully develop their skills and expertise to drive impactful research and innovation.

COST Actions are flexible enough networks, to easily turn and adjust their professional work towards new, timely questions and involve new partners based on their needs for knowledge or expertise. The networks work as a “scout”, which can explore new pathways not easily accessible to the mainstream Horizon Europe tools.

PA: What are the current policy priorities of COST?

UC: COST is an established platform where people and ideas can grow, contributing decisively to the internationalisation process of the research and innovation communities and to significant scientific and technological breakthroughs in Europe and beyond. To continue as the leading networking instrument in the European Research Area (ERA), COST has three strategic priorities:

  • Promoting and Spreading Excellence
  • Fostering interdisciplinary research for breakthrough science
  • Empowering and retaining young researchers and innovators

Cross-border collaboration and mobility are key in today’s research and innovation practice. COST serves a community of more than 45,000 active researchers in building networks that highly contribute to the free flow of knowledge and researchers and innovators in Europe and beyond. We offer simple and low-barrier processes for universal access to networks of excellence. Therefore, we believe that COST is a crucial player in the further development of a real European Research Area.

PA: How far are you creating possibilities in the Western Balkans to integrate the region into COST networks? Is the cooperation with EUREKA an example for this?

UC: The scientific communities of all the Western Balkans economies are today active beneficiaries of COST Actions.  Scientists from COST Member countries can propose and join a running COST Action, allowing for capacity building and research networking opportunities. A major outcome of this mechanism was the doubling the participation of the Western Balkans economies in the COST programme since the beginning of Horizon 2020.

COST is motivated to continue its contribution in supporting the Western Balkans region by using the mechanisms that provide the necessary springboard to connect with follow-up funding opportunities directly or indirectly related to European programmes on R&I and beyond. The mechanisms developed during the last 50 years have proven to be successful in connecting pockets of excellence, thereby contributing to the deepening and reinforcing of the ERA.

A crucial factor of this successful participation of the Western Balkans is the role of the local COST National Coordinators, who are responsible for the COST Programme in their economies, which you can compare to the NCP’s in the Horizon Europe Framework Programmes. They are connected to the local research communities. Later this month, we will also host our general assembly, which is also called meeting of Committee of Senior Officials, in North Macedonia, combined with an Info Day. These Info Days have been regularly organised in the Western Balkans in the past years, attracting a large number of researchers and innovators.

The cooperation which was set up with EUREKA can be seen as first stepping stone in exploring synergies with other European funding mechanisms in the region, where we believe that we at COST create a leverage effect to reaching out to researchers in the different Western Balkans economies. As a general principle, it is our aim to establish synergies with other EU programmes and policy initiatives, creating a win-win for all partners involved by adopting a forward looking perspective.

PA: Can you share some good practices and examples for Actions where the region is particularly active?

UC: Several interesting stories can be highlighted where researchers from the region played an import role in the impact of the network, such as the Network for Evaluation of One Health COST Action, which developed and designed solutions to pressing health issues, such as antibiotic resistance. The Action raised awareness of One Health across the Balkans, where three training workshops for the region were organised.

COST Actions can also be led by researchers in the Western Balkans region. Two notable examples are the European Non-Territorial Autonomy Network (ENTAN), which is chaired by a researcher from North Macedonia, and the FAIR Network of micrometeorological measurements (FAIRNESS), which is chaired by a researcher from Serbia. More broadly, about 150 researchers and innovators from the region are currently in Action leadership positions, covering a broad range of themes and disciplines.

PA: Thank you for your time.

Geographical focus
  • Europe
  • Western Balkans
Scientifc field / Thematic focus
  • General

Entry created by Admin on October 30, 2023
Modified on October 30, 2023