BACKGROUND:Member Organisation Forum in Central and Eastern European Countries (MOCEE)

MO Forum Project on Research Needs of EU-10 and the Candidate Countries


The twenty-five countries belonging to the EU have recognised that research and innovation are major strategic tools for promoting competitiveness in a globalising world. The special feature of a large part of the countries that joined the EU in 2004 or are going to join in the near future is not simply being poorer than the EU15 member states. The Central-Eastern European countries bear some common cultural characteristics originating from the historical past, and the party-state system that they had during the common Soviet reign. These common features are probably to be found in the institutionalisation and operation of their science, as well. The European Union today is far from being a homogeneous region in the cultural sense. Whereas the integration and convergence of the national economies is a fundamental and official objective, the “Europeanisation” of some other fields is much more indirect, hidden – but just as necessary. This recognition led to the establishment of the ERA, which, however, requires significant efforts.

In the Central-Eastern European countries, the significance and the political weight of science and scientific researches have usually increased at the level of slogans, only. Not only the volume of community and private resources rendered to science and research is way lower than the proportion of similar resources in Western-Europe, but the reputation of research activities and researchers among politicians and governmental elite and their impact on public policies too. In addition to the worse financial and infrastructure conditions, the objectives, the tools and the institutional system of science policy are not in every respect compatible, either, with the more advanced Western European science. Concretely, the real positive impact of the modernisation in the fields of science management and financing are restricted by the rather less science friendly political attitudes, the state losing functions and the backward institutional system of public services. The catching up is especially blocked by the several decades of isolation of the Central-Eastern European research community (first of all in social sciences), the loose linkages to international networks. The scientists in Central-Eastern Europe could may have known the new, innovative scientific methods, and infrastructure but had less opportunity to apply them and therefore the international co-operation could not become integrated part of their scientific existence. An other important motive to assist catching up that the institutions managing science policy and organising scientific life and their managers  were unable to experience and master modern procedures and institutions:

  • The institutional forms supporting interdisciplinary approaches are still rather exceptional,
  •  The research infrastructure is still territorially strongly centralised, the scientific units are fairly fragmented and the separation of universities and research units remained unchanged,
  •  It is still hard to acquire resources for basic research, which cannot be predicted and planned in advance etc.
  •  It is especially important to emphasise the lack of public policy institutions serving the so called strategic planning in Central-East Europe. In this region the expansion of the applied research serving better foresight and becoming more and more characteristic in the Western part of Europe is hardly to experience. Therefore, it is probable that further disadvantages will emerge in the Central East European region concerning the “frontier research” announced within the seventh framework program.

The catching-up of the Central-Eastern European research community has been restricted also due to the lack of dialogue between the CEE and the Western European science community as well as the underdeveloped Western traditions of academic collaboration and trust in the CEE scholars, especially in the social sciences.

Due to the above reasons it seems to be convenient to prepare a new strategy aimed at higher convergence of European (social) sciences within the framework of ESF. The specific tasks are two-fold. First, to elaborate the catching up strategies for the CEE research and policies and the second, to facilitate communication between the CEE and the Western European social science communities.  More specifically, ESF should initiate a project:

  • to study the situation of research and policy in the Central-Eastern European countries with the focus on  research needs;
  • to promote a dialogue (starting in a form of a conference or a workshop) between CEE and Western European science communities on research needs from both sides;
  • based on the research findings and the dialogue to work out a “catching up strategy”:
    • to promote the compatibility of the institutional, regulatory and value system among the research areas in Western and Central-Eastern Europe;
    • to work out special tools for more intensive involvement of the scientists and policy-makers of Central-Eastern Europe, who are less experienced in relationship building and international co-operations;
    • to facilitate the spatial decentralisation and eastward expansion of the European science institutions;
    • to advance academic traditions of both sides for better collaboration and joint visibility.

The above programme would very well fit into the strategy which was formulated 2005 December at the conference organised of the European Committee in the field of social sciences. The conference found that despite all achievements and developments, social scientific research in the newly accessed member states is at a financing disadvantage and the EU’s supporting and incentive system was unable to improve this situation. The United States seem to have a more efficient support system due to which a significant brain drain can be experienced from Europe towards the US. However, a firm resolution seems to be evolving to establish the conditions of a more systematic linkage of the scientific work in Western and Eastern Europe.

The above-mentioned catching up programme can of course be implemented by many kinds of activities and measures, depending on the willingness of the ESF and the member states concerned. In the following part of our proposal we just suggest some of the possible elements:

1. Launching the project

Starting up the project, maybe it is just the willingness and the survey of the concrete needs that make it imperative to hold a workshop first (e.g. in Hungary), with the participation of science policy experts of European recognition and the science policy experts of the ESF countries that joined the EU in 2004 or are going to join soon.

The workshop could discuss the problems revealed by the science policy experts of the respective countries could demonstrate their own situation: science policy strategy, institutional system, personnel etc. This element is important because we suppose that there are a lot of differences within this group of countries concerned as well.

2. Preparing the project - the survey

The workshop should be followed by a standardised survey of the present situation and problems, aiming at the exploration of the specialities of science management, scientific institutional system and the peculiarities of the academic society of the East-Central European countries. The task of the ESF and SOC (formerly SCSS), respectively of the experts invited by those two organisations would be to deliver the professional background for the assessment to be carried out in the concerned countries through the preparation of a questionnaire, which will assess the most significant characteristics of science policy.

The comprehensive analysis of science policy (the institutional and organising system and financing of science, policy strategies, special research needs, topics, the situation of the researchers) in East-Central Europe, the benchmarking of the respective countries, their comparison to the EU15 may be the basis of the report which would describe the most important issues under debate respectively the suggestions, proposals for the elements of the catching up programme.

The other solution could be to set up an ad hoc commission from science policymakers to study the situation in the region on the basis of personal experiences gained from interviews, documents etc.

3. Some ideas about the implementation of the catching up project

3.1. Training of science policy makers

  • It may be useful to organise study tours, training programmes for the competent managers of science in the respective countries (directors of institutes, national research funds, staff of the academies) in countries that operate adaptable models.
  • Furthermore the systematic representation of EU DG Research and other scientific organisations and formations to the scientific public of the concerned countries would be similarly important, since the phenomenon is still characteristic, that the “European” information remain the internal affair of a narrow professional and organisational circle.
  • Special methodology guidelines, information booklets, templates for tendering and calls for tenders, science performance and programme evaluation etc. could be made. The experiences show that the national science supporting systems of are seemingly more complicated and complex than the European ones but in the course of judgement the old mechanisms are enforced. Therefore equipping not only those operating the application/grant systems but also those operating and maintaining the systems of research institutes with better knowledge on evaluation methodology would be essential.

3.2. Deeper, thematic reports

Thematic studies should be made in certain fields that are of special significance in this group of countries: (a) financing of science; (b) decentralisation of scientific institutional and personnel capacities, strengthening of the capacities of the regions (of course there are countries where the problem is just the opposite and their task is to integrate capacities); (c) the relationship of universities and research institutes, (d) the institutional and operational conditions of interdisciplinarity and (e) application/transfer models of scientific findings, the situation of basic researches, (f) conditions and mobility of researchers, problems of publishing etc, . These studies should be discussed also with those concerned.

3.3. Positive discrimination-special tools

    • The facilitation of a special incentive system in the interest of the establishment and improvement of public policy analytical and far-seeing institutions.
    • Assistance for the establishment of comprehensive social scientific database and information system.
    • Special assistance for the release of English language publications, periodicals in Central-East Europe.
    • Special incentives for the organisations of larger scale international conferences in the concerned region.
    • Financial administrative or substantial advantages for the CEE-members of consortiums, special rewarding of consortium involving a higher proportion of CEE institutions or researchers. Special aid for the organisation of research consortiums led by CEE institutions.
    • Special mobility grant, allowing the acceptance of longer term scholarships (e.g. the assistance to the family staying home).

The above are not more than ideas, which may be shaped. Our target was only to introduce the idea of the existence of “backward situation” within science policy the special treatment of which may contribute to the stronger cohesion of the continent.

10 April 2006
Ilona Pálné Kovács, Dagmar Kutsar

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