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A New Ministry in Charge of Science and Higher Education Needed

Establishment of a separate government body in charge of science and higher education is the way to an efficient reform of this sector in Serbia. This was the main conclusion of the roundtable “Science and Higher Education” organised on April 21st by the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Art (SASA) and the Institute of Social Sciences.

Science and technological development are the driving force of every country’s progress. Investments in science are capital investments securing economic progress and stability. However, despite the considerable human capital in Serbia, science and higher education institutions are not contributing to the reforms and development of the society in a satisfactory way. The root causes are many: archaic and inefficient management of science, lack of funding for scientific research, broken links between scientific institutes and faculties, but most of all decades-long erosion of scientific infrastructure.

President of SASA, Dr Vladimir Kostic said that there is a sufficient awareness of the importance of investing into science and technological development, but that there is a historic speed, which does not give politicians a chance to reflect:
“This is the time that requires immediate, quick and targeted action. There is no time to step back, reflect and then act. One must act immediately.”
Director of the Institute of Social Sciences, Dr Goran Basic stressed that while the scientific community can propose solutions, somebody needs to take the managing role and perform it in a high quality manner. 
“Right now, there is an impression that the current Ministry does not have enough people who could respond on a daily basis to all the challenges imposed by the scientific and technological development”, said Basic.

Productivity and Brain Drain

The roundtable participants agreed that the link between science and higher education is non-existent and that they are separated both spatially and institutionally. One of the questions raised was how to create a better and more efficient way of cooperation and education of professionals dealing with science management and development. They stressed that the productivity and quality of scientific papers are a constant issue. Production is low and the only way to increase it is to increase the number of researchers (average age of researchers in Serbia is 45). 

“In the era of creating a digital society followed by extremely fast technological development, in ten years there will be 40% of new professions which are unknown today. Therefore, the education has to be wider and interdisciplinary, so graduates can become adaptable to the changes we are expecting” – said Vladimir Bumbasirevic, Rector of the University of Belgrade and President of the Conference of Universities of Serbia.
According to Dr Kostic, young highly educated people leaving the country is a serious demographic issue:

“Their share in the number of emigrants ranges from 6,000 to 15,000 and even 50,000”, said Dr Kostic and added that when it comes to financing science projects, the Government should also consider financing junior projects, where young researchers would have an opportunity to network and connect globally with other researchers.

Financing Science

The one issue all participants could agree on was that creating a sustainable funding and development model for science is one of the most urgent matters. 

State Secretary at the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development, Dr Vladimir Popovic pointed out that funds for science are low, and that the Ministry could allocate only 16.2 billion dinars to science this year:  
“One of the ways the Ministry is considering supporting the excellence in research is to double the funding of material costs for 20-30 highest ranked research projects.”
Another issue the scientific community in Serbia is facing is postponing of project calls and dilemmas on funding models, with the current one leaving productive researchers out of the system.
“There are currently 1500 researchers that are not included in the project cycle, which is not good because in 15-20 years, these researchers should become science advisors. So one of the issues we need address is how the funds are being spent”, said Popovic. 

Proposed Solutions

A rational, efficient and cost-effective way of resolving these issues is to have an integrated approach toward organising and managing science and higher education. It is necessary to have a government body that would establish a sustainable way of organising and financing science research activity and higher education. 

Young researchers and doctoral students leaving the country, basic research lagging behind, insufficient linkages of science and higher education with the needs of economy and public policies, social status and evaluation of scientific research are issues that can be solved only by improving the way we manage science. Participants of the roundtable feel that establishment of a separate ministry for science and higher education is the right way toward resolving these issues.  

Related Work of PERFORM

PERFORM’s mandate includes working on favourable framework conditions for scientific work and social science research in Serbia. Since its inception, PERFORM has facilitated the establishment of an Advisory Group on Social Science and Humanities as a consultative body to the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development, which would provide comments on policy options related to the regulatory framework for scientific work.

In order to provide a better conducive framework for implementing the Strategy on Science and Innovation 2020, the Advisory Group initiated the idea of launching a debate on the new Ministry of Science and Higher Education. In its facilitative role, PERFORM provided support to the Institute of Social Science and SASA in communicating the recommendations from the round table. It is expected that this proposal will be on the agenda during the period of establishing the new Government of Serbia.