Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Memorandum by Professor Alan Walker, Dr Joanne Cook and Mr Peter Traynor


  This submission addresses the strategic questions posed by the Committee. It consists of a summary of the outcomes from a project spanning two and a half years that has been identifying the current gaps in ageing research across Europe and developing recommendations aimed at promoting better co-ordination of research in Europe, more cross-national collaboration and more interdisciplinary research.


  The European Forum on Population Ageing Research (FORUM) is an Accompanying Measure under the EU's Fifth Framework Programme. Drawing inspiration from the UK National Collaboration on Ageing Research (NCAR) FORUM was established in April 2002 to build upon the Research Directorate's efforts to enhance ageing research, by encouraging knowledge sharing, improving channels of communication, promoting broader European co-operation and raising the profile of European research on ageing. To achieve these objectives FORUM organised a number of events, including workshops, meetings and user consultations, which were attended by many key people in the field of ageing research in Europe, including scientists, policy makers, funders and user groups. The iterative process began with a series of three scientific workshops which focused on developing key ideas and recommendations regarding the future of ageing research, concentrating on the areas of Genetics, Longevity and Demography; Quality of Life; and Health and Social Care. These draft recommendations were then considered at a meeting of the European Forum of research funders, then a user consultation conference and then again in a series of three more scientific workshops (a total of over 200 scientists have been involved in this work). Finally they were discussed, amended and approved by a second meeting of the European Forum in June 2004. The FORUM project concludes in December 2004 with a conference to present the final set of recommendations concerning European research on ageing.

Background to FORUM

    —  A major point of reference for this project is population ageing (Europe is the oldest region in the world) and the importance of responding to demographic changes in a pro-active and positive manner.

    —  The EU recognises the importance of co-ordination and information sharing in ageing research but, in contrast to the US, European ageing research currently lacks a co-ordinated approach.

    —  Scientists have been pushing for greater co-ordination for some time and continue to pursue cross-national and collaborative research on ageing and to argue that such research should be higher on the policy agenda.

    —  FORUM emerged from a recognition of these important issues and reflected the creation, in 2001, of a new collaborative structure on ageing research in the UK. The Key Action 6 on the Ageing Population and their Disabilities (under Framework Programme 5) created the opportunity for the project to obtain funding.

Objectives of FORUM

  The FORUM project has five specific objectives:

    —  To promote European co-operation in ageing research.

    —  To develop synergies between national and international programmes.

    —  To improve channels of communication between Key Action 6 and national research efforts.

    —  To stimulate interdisciplinary research.

    —  To promote improved public awareness of ageing research.

Summary of recommendations

  What follows is a short selection of some of the many recommendations generated by the FORUM process. The full list can be found in the final report of the project on the FORUM website at The recommendations command a high level of consensus among scientists, end user groups and national research funders and policy makers.

Key recommendations

  These represent the top five priorities to emerge from the FORUM process:

    —  The recommendations from FORUM should be used to develop targeted funding for ageing research in Framework Programme 7.

    —  Major research and policy gains would be made from establishing a European Institute on Ageing to bring all disciplines on ageing together—this would provide the European identity that ageing research urgently needs to maximise its potential.

    —  Specific funding structures are needed to develop interdisciplinary and European research on ageing, research funding bodies/councils need to work together to provide funding incentives for this research and career structures need to be developed to enable and encourage researchers to take this direction.

    —  Involving users in research is essential and more research is needed on good practice and models of user involvement.

    —  Researchers in this field are ageing and there is a lack of new talent coming into ageing research—support structures need to be funded to attract new researchers.

Topic specific research priorities

  A summary of the priorities under each of the three topics (quality of life; health and social care; genetics, longevity and demography) can be found in the appendix. The following are general priorities spanning the three topics.

    —  More focus should be given to comparative social policy and evaluating the efficacy of different welfare states and health care systems.

    —  More research on Europe's immensely diverse populations, and in particular how such diversity, of ethnicity, gender relations and migration patterns for instance, interacts with the ageing process.

    —  More studies of the interaction of environment and ageing, for instance the differences in the ageing process in rural and urban areas and the effect of residential versus the home environment on ageing and quality of life.

    —  Evaluating interventions—such as healthy and active ageing (including the ethics of such interventions).

    —  Transitions in older age, including changes in personal resources, family changes, retirement or continuing to work post-retirement.

    —  Research into older people as the providers as well as receivers of care and the various formal and information relationships involved in care.

    —  Agency in old age: older people's preferences and involvement in research and direct and indirect discrimination.

Research methods and approaches

    —  Increased funding is needed to develop the basic research tools for collaboration at a European level, including new comparative methodologies and databases, standardised instruments and greater co-ordination of data collection.

    —  European researchers need to work together to develop appropriate models and concepts, and to reach a consensus on the definition and measurement of concepts which would account for cross-cultural definitions whilst preserving context specific meanings.

    —  The diversity of ageing across Europe deserves greater recognition and exploration, as does the situation of different ethnic and migrant groups. More should be made of the richness of Europe's population, and there should be a focus on heterogeneity rather than simply looking for averages.

    —  Ageing research should be established as a discipline in its own right.

European collaboration

    —  An appropriate infrastructure needs to be developed at both the national and international levels to facilitate greater European collaboration. This should include the establishment or strengthening of national institutes of ageing, and the creation of a European institute or agency on ageing. Other developments could include dedicated journals, conferences and funding structures, better research training and a web based database of European ageing research.

    —  European networks on ageing research are needed to bring together scientists, user groups and older people to enable greater collaboration and dissemination of research on ageing. These networks need to be long term to build sustained collaboration. All stakeholders in ageing research also need to be included, not just researchers.

    —  Co-ordinating European collaboration on ageing would offer substantial benefits, including greater coherence in research and understanding across Europe, more opportunities for comparative analysis and policy and better use of Europe's high quality data in fields such as historical demographics, genetics and the care of older people.

    —  The recruitment and training of scholars, in particular promising young scholars, from different European countries needs to be promoted, to ensure optimal allocation of human capital and the build-up of efficient research teams and centres.

Interdisciplinary collaboration

    —  There is wide consensus among scientists that there should be a greater emphasis on interdisciplinary research in the field of ageing, but that this should not mean the dissolving of disciplinary identities. Indeed disciplinary identities should be maintained: the challenge is to develop synergy through research.

    —  Finding the necessary balance between the different disciplines requires a structure for better learning and understanding of different disciplines. There is a need for a common language and a role for the EU in creating a common database.

    —  Greater funding should be given to interdisciplinary centres, creating financial incentives to conduct interdisciplinary research and to educating, rewarding and developing appropriate career structures for interdisciplinary experts.

    —  Interdisciplinary research often falls between disciplinary funding bodies/research councils. There is a need for funding to go across disciplinary boundaries. Therefore, specific funding mechanisms are needed and the EU should play a role in facilitating this.

Involving the users of research

    —  Scientists are committed to involving users in research but acknowledged various difficulties including selecting who to involve and which projects such involvement would be suitable for.

    —  It was agreed that the formulation of a research agenda should involve a partnership model in which all stakeholders contribute to its development.

    —  A new methodology is needed in order to gain the maximum benefits from user involvement in research, and this should involve looking at existing examples of good practice and training for both researchers and users. If funders wish to encourage user involvement then the additional funds and time must be made available.

Policy recommendations

    —  Interdisciplinary, comparative cross-national and longitudinal research are difficult, time consuming and expensive but they are extremely necessary. Research funders must provide for this if they want the advances in knowledge that this research can bring.

    —  There should be a focus on demonstrating how research on ageing can contribute to people's lives and government policy, and the public should be convinced of the value of ageing research.

    —  Experiences of good practice for the effective dissemination of European research need to be developed and facilitated. This aspect of research often takes place when funding has expired and little resources are available for this critical stage of the research work. An additional funded phase for dissemination is needed in national and European funding programmes.

    —  The links between research findings and policy need to be developed. Currently the value of research is lost because of inadequate dissemination and the failure to carry through research findings into policy impact.

    —  Research findings should reach as large an audience as possible, including policy-makers. There is an important role for NGOs to play in translating findings into more understandable information and policy recommendations. For NGOs to carry out this task properly they must be funded.

    —  National funding bodies must support the future of ageing research and in order to do so effectively, ageing research has to be seen as a priority for research funding across Europe. The EU has an important facilitating, accompanying and co-ordinating role to play, for example, through networks and Framework funding.

    —  Each national funding body should have a commitment to fund a programme of research on ageing or at the very least a collection of co-ordinated projects. Otherwise the absence of this leads to exclusion from networks such as ERA-NET.

    —  All scientists and user groups agreed that the EU has a fundamental role to play in supporting, encouraging and if necessary obliging national governments to organise at least some form of "national agenda on ageing research". Without such measures the co-ordination of research on ageing will never reach the organised levels it receives in the US and this could damage the competitive advantage of European research in this field.


  The aim of the FORUM project was to bring together the different groups active in the field of ageing research in Europe: scientists, research funders and user groups, to share knowledge and good practice and to identify the key priorities for European research in this field. The project has been very successful in bringing these groups together and has generated a great deal of enthusiasm among scientists. FORUM has gathered a wealth of valuable knowledge on interdisciplinary research and priorities for future research in this field. This knowledge will be shared at the final conference of the FORUM project, in Brussels in December and through the website and newsletters. However, whilst FORUM is drawing to a close, it is essential that those involved in the various aspects of ageing research take forward what has been learnt and work together to promote cross national and interdisciplinary collaboration. The ultimate aim of this endeavour, like all research on ageing, must be to extend the quality of older people's lives.


ERA-AGE Project

  At the first meeting of the European Forum in March 2003, participants asked the FORUM team to develop an ERA-NET Co-ordination Action proposal to the EU's Sixth Framework Programme. This application was successful. The European Research Area on Population Ageing Research (ERA-AGE) began on 1 March 2004 and runs for four years. The groundwork for this project has been the European FORUM project, and the priorities developed by the FORUM process will be used to inform the work of ERA-AGE.

  ERA-AGE is a consortium of nine partner countries and five associate partnerships, the aim of which is to create the framework for a European research area in the field of population ageing research, enabling research funders to work together more effectively and therefore gain maximum added value from national investments in this field. For more information please see the ERA AGE website (

October 2004

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