Internship report: Kilian Heutte, European Commission

Internship report - Killian Heutte

Where did you do your internship and what was your role?

Last summer I did my internship in Brussels at the European Commission in the Directorate General for Competition, F4 Merger Unit, which is specialised in Post and Transport Services.

The European Commission is an EU institution with a power of investigation and intervention. The working languages are English, French and German. It is a big institution, counting more than 32,000 European civil servants. They are divided into departments called “Directorates-General” – DG – which are sub-divided into services – specialised in particular market sectors – which are also sub-divided into units – policy areas.

My work consisted in the treatment of companies’ merger cases. I had to draft legal documents, all following strict templates; some were internal to the European Commission, and some others were to be published to inform EU citizens and companies. I also helped to interpret outputs of market investigations that were specifically made for the cases I was working on.

 

How did your studies / courses at TSE help you during the internship?

The mathematical skills I gained at TSE enabled me to create a methodology to compute different market shares for many sub-segmentations of given markets.

 

How did you find your internship? What advice would you give to students to find a similar internship?

I heard from other TSE students that the European Commission was helping students by offering them the possibility to get an understanding of its work through some special programs. I was looking for hands-on experience in the competition sector to complement my theoretical knowledge. It was clear to me that I wanted to work for such an institution, so I applied. To students who would like to find a similar internship, I would suggest to send an e-mail as soon as possible to “comp-visitors-scheme@ec.europa.eu”. You should provide some details concerning your availability, your motivation, the service/unit you would be interested in working in, etc,  with a CV and a cover letter.

 

 

Knowledge for all – Open access to scientific research

Scientific papers are at the very heart of our student lives. They cause nightmares as they feature on the seemingly endless reading list for our seminars and inspire dreams as we strive for seeing our own name in the list of authors. Still, few students waste a thought on the business side of scientific publishing. Unjustly so, as the field might undergo radical changes in the coming years with far-reaching consequences for academia.

The source of the potential upheaval is a European initiative for open-access science publishing. Under the code name “Plan S,” the European Commission and the national research organisations of twelve European countries demand that all work resulting from publicly funded research shall be made accessible free of charge by 2021. In concrete terms, the plan stipulates that research worth €7.6 billion needs to be uploaded in open-access journals. This demand pits them against publishing houses, which fear a severe disruption to their existing business model.

A monopoly on knowledge

As the bankrollers of most research in their countries, national research organisations take a reasonable interest in reforming a system that absurdly overcharges them for bringing the results of the research to the public. In the current system, publishing houses receive the manuscripts of publicly financed researchers free of charge. The manuscripts are in turn checked by peer reviewers – most of whom are also employed at universities. At the end of the production chain, publishers sell the resulting journals to  university libraries. Collectively, publicly funded institutions therefore buy the fruits of their own labour.

Of course, publishers also incur certain costs, such as for administrative tasks, marketing, layout, printing and, perhaps most importantly, the administration of the peer review process. But they could by no means explain the immense increases in journal prices observed over the last decades. From 1984 to 2005, the average price charged for academic periodicals in the US increased sixfold while the overall price level rose by a factor of less than two (see Figure).

University libraries are increasingly unwilling or unable to pay. Couperin, a consortium representing 250 French education institutes, announced last year that its negotiations with Springer came to nought and that it will no longer subscribe to their journals. However, giving up access to top journals is hardly an option for universities. Researchers must stay up to date with the latest findings in their fields and students, whether they like it or not, need to go through their reading lists.

It follows that publishing houses are in a quasi-monopoly position with nearly unrestricted pricing power. This is evident not only from the price increases for journals, but also by the profits that the three biggest publishers – Springer, Elsevier and Wiley-Blackwell – regularly amass. Elsevier, for example, chalked up profit margins of 37% in 2018. In comparison, the average listed company in the S&P 500 index had a margin of only 10% in that year.

KnowledgeForAll.Graph.JPEG

Science without borders

The deficiencies of the current system raise the question for an alternative model. One answer is provided by open access, meaning the free provisioning of research results online. This can take two forms: the first one is “green open access,” where an article continues to be submitted in a paid journal. In addition, after an embargo period of six to twelve months, the authors upload the article for the purpose of self-archiving to their institution’s website. The second is called “golden open access” and refers to publications in journals that are themselves accessible free of charge. Their main difference concerns how the journal covers the remaining publication costs. In the green model, the reader continues to pay the journal for the privilege of early access. In the golden model, the costs are covered by “publication fees” settled by the authors, who usually pass them on to the funder – e.g. their university or grant provider.

With the advent of open access at the beginning of the century, many predicted the end of the existing payment model. And indeed, open access has made some inroads – including the Public Library of Science and BioMed Central journals, as well as the ArXiv website, an online repository for scientific manuscripts. Many students will also be familiar with Sci-Hub, a website hosting papers without regard to copyright. In a legal way, however, the expected open access revolution never fully materialised. Today, only a quarter of scientific articles are made freely available, most of them in green open access.

Now Plan S intends to radically accelerate the transition. It responds to calls for greater transparency and cost efficiency regarding the use of public money. Further, it is expected to accelerate the speed of discoveries. As science advances through cross-fertilisation between projects, any barriers such as paywalls or embargo periods necessarily slow it down. Instantly uploading manuscripts, even before the protracted peer reviewing process, could serve as a catalyst of scientific progress.

Moreover, extending the diffusion of scientific knowledge to a less affluent audience renders science more equitable and encourages diverse thinking in academia. Finally, open access may shift the focus away from publishing exclusively significant results and allow the research community insights into “failed” studies that may have equally valuable insights to give. One study claims that the results of half of all clinic trials in the US go unpublished (Riveros et al., 2013). Without knowing about these, researchers may end up pursuing dead ends that have already been explored by their colleagues.

 

S for Short-Sighted?

In the eyes of sceptics however, the sweeping changes of Plan S risk undermining the quality of research by severely hurting high-class journals. A particularly contentious demand of Plan S is a proposed cap on publication fees. This would be particularly hard to meet for journals with high rejection rates. Since they also incur expenses for the peer review of rejected articles, they face significantly higher costs for every publication. Nature, for example, estimates their publication fees to be at $40,000 per article – many times the limit contemplated by backers of Plan S.

Renowned journals pride themselves on their selectivity as it grants their articles a quality seal that open access journals could struggle to replicate. Critics fear that in the extreme case, open access can end in the practice of “predatory journals,” which accept any article for the sole purpose of cashing in the authors’ publication fees. A survey by the Nature Publishing Group shows that almost half of the authors therefore express doubts about the quality of open access journals.

The main worry about Plan S is therefore that rather than reforming the publishing system worldwide, it could create a parallel system for European research. If the top journals do not go along with the proposed changes, nationally funded researchers would be restricted to less reputable open access outfits. In the worst case, this could even lead to an exodus of scientific talent to countries or funders without open access-requirements. Recognising the risks of an abrupt implementation, the consortium behind Plan S has postponed its introduction by a year – it was initially supposed to start in 2020 – and suggested a two-year transition period. Even after that delay, it remains all but clear whether the plan will indeed manifest or remain the pipe dream of disenchanted open-access advocates.

Conclusion

In the current system, publishers use monopoly power to demand exaggerated prices from university libraries without compensating those who contributed to the research. Open access promises to upend the practice and extend the insights of scientific research to a much broader range of people without any financial limitations. But as its advancement has stalled, new political support is required to maintain the momentum. Plan S could potentially provide this boost. Its success, however, depends on whether it can create mechanisms to continue the process of rigorous peer review and uphold quality. If it does, the plan could serve to inspire other countries to pursue open-access initiatives. Elsewise, it will founder as a quixotic undertaking aspiring for a world with free, unlimited knowledge for all.

By Stefan Preuss

 

References

CSI Market , 2019.
https://csimarket.com/Industry/industry_Profitability_Ratios.php?sp5

Couperin, 2018.
https://www.couperin.org/breves/1333-couperin-ne-renouvelle-pas-l-accord-national-passe-avec-springer

Dingley, B., 2005. US Periodical Price Index 2005.

Kimball, M.S., 2017.
https://blog.supplysideliberal.com/post/2017/7/11/does-the-journal-system-distort-scientific-research

RelX Yearly Result, 2019.
https://www.relx.com/investors/results/2019

Riveros C., Dechartes A., Perrodeau E., Haneef R., Boutron I., Ravaud P., 2013. https://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.1001566

The Economist, 2018. https://www.economist.com/science-and-technology/2018/09/15/european-countries-demand-that-publicly-funded-research-be-free

 

 

 

 

TSE Alumni article – Valentin Moreau, European Commision

NEW VERSION Alumni - Vincent Moreau

What is your position today?

I am currently working at the European Commission, as an International Cooperation Officer within the Directorate General for International Cooperation and Development (DG DEVCO). Most precisely, I am working for an emergency fund, created in 2015 to deliver an integrated and coordinated response to the diverse causes of instability, irregular migration and forced displacement in Africa. This fund covers 26 countries in the Sahel & Lake Chad, the Horn of Africa and Northern Africa.

I am part of the Coordination team of the Fund and I focus mostly on the questions linked to the monitoring and evaluation of the projects implemented in Africa. This includes a wide range of activities, from the treatment and analysis of data to the reporting and communication of results. I permanently interact with colleagues from different geographic units in order to transmit relevant information and ensure data consistency. I also prepare presentations to various stakeholders (NGOs, Member States’ Development Agencies) as well as policy briefings and written answers to parliamentary questions.

 

What was your path from your Master’s graduation to this current post, and what are the key elements, which helped making your choice?

After graduating in 2015, I had the opportunity to do a first six-month internship within a consulting firm in Paris and a second one at the EU Commission within the Economic team of DG DEVCO in Brussels. After that, I joined the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) in London as a Research Assistant within the team of the Chief Economist for almost a year. I contributed to the preparation and publication of a report, based on a large-scale EBRD and World Bank surveys, to assess life satisfaction and impacts of economic and political change in Central and Eastern Europe as well as Central Asia. I then came back to Brussels to work for a think tank analysing European economic policies. These diverse rewarding experiences in both private and public sectors gave a real sense to my studies and strengthened my conviction that the statistical and economical knowledge gained at TSE could be powerful tools to serve and improve public policy. I also realised that it was important for me to work at the crossroads not only of economical and geopolitical but also social and cultural concerns. At the end of the day, the European Commission, and more specifically DG DEVCO, appeared to me as the place where I could grow professionally and mobilise everything I had learnt in recent years in terms of public policy evaluation and data analysis.

 

According to your professional experience, what are the most useful skills you obtained during your degree?

Studying at TSE gave me a sound knowledge of both economic theory and international development problematics such as foreign aid, North-South relations, institutions and governance, which is proving to be very useful today in my daily work. TSE allows developing a solid culture in this field combining both the study of fundamental papers and inspiring lectures. For instance, I remember exciting courses on the rise of new foreign aid donors and its geopolitical implications.

Moreover, the degree gives strong quantitative and analytical skills, which are highly valued in the job market, especially in the field of monitoring and evaluation – applied econometrics, program evaluation, data and policy analysis. A concrete example of group project was for instance the assessment of the effects of a media campaign on HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention in Ghana.

Finally, the multicultural and vibrant atmosphere of the school with all courses taught in English and students from all over the world helps to develop good communication and interpersonal skills, which are particularly useful within international organisations.

 

What advice would you like to give to the TSE students, or to the school?

The most important advice, although quite general, would be to remain curious and continue to learn as much as possible. In this light, I think it is essential to always ask questions and to strengthen your critical thinking.

More specific advice to students who would be interested in working within international organisations would be, first, to multiply experiences abroad, both studies and professional experiences, in order to develop strong adaptability skills and to be able to work in different languages. I would also strongly encourage you to gain expertise in a specific field or geographical area. Besides, do not hesitate to contact directly TSE Alumni: there are many people working within international organisations (World Bank, UN, OECD, EU institutions) who can share their experiences and precious advice. Finally, yet importantly, I think that motivation and patience are essential if you want to join an international organisation since recruitment procedures can be very long and competitive.