Back to the drawing board for Kosovo’s plans to boost science funding

A new science law that would pave the way for more research funding for Kosovo’s scientists suffered a blow two weeks ago (20 February) when the parliamentary committee on finance sent it back to the ministry because of “big budgetary implications that were not planned for in the 2013 budget or for spending in the medium term”.

The proposed law which would mandate the government to set aside a certain portion of its budget for research – for the first time in this state’s short independent existence – has been stuck in parliamentary discussions since July 2012.

The proposed law would require 0.7% of Kosovo’s annual budget to go to scientific research – something that the current law also suggests, but as a result of ambiguous wording the money was never actually set aside.

Murteza Osdautaj, Director of Kosovo’s Department for Science and Technology, says the old law said that the state should put aside ‘up to 0.7%’ of funds for research and because of this ambiguity, there was practically no funding for research.

“The 0.7% figure isn’t new one. It is an old figure but in the new law the phrase ‘up to 0.7%’ has been dropped and it is clearly written that the state should allocate this amount [0.7%] of the budget,” Osdautaj says.

The current research budget is near 0.01% of GDP, only €480,000 annually, he says. But this figure excludes money that universities, the Academy of Science and research institutes spend on research from their own annual budgets, he adds.

“Kosovo also needs the new law because the old one didn’t incorporate some aspects of innovation and transfer of technology,” Osdautaj says.

Yet with the recent blow, the law may never see the light of day in its current form.

Dukagjin Pupovci, a former secretary of the National Research Council says: “I doubt that the Parliament will approve a law which mandates 0.7% of GDP for research”.

Osdautaj adds that the current science strategy for 2010-2015 may also need redrafting to take into account the “real budgetary conditions of Kosovo”, although the new law does not call for a new strategy.

The National Research Council drafted a National Research Programme that was passed by parliament in July 2010, and that strategy document called for a new science law that would allow an increase in funding.

“Research and technological development (RTD) is still a marginal undertaking in Kosovo,” the strategy acknowledges. “Even basic science and technology statistics are lacking. A functional and intentional system of innovation does not yet exist.”

The strategy attributes problems to low levels of funding and the recent war. It also says scientific research is marginalised in the country’s higher education sector.

To fix things, the programme sets a budget of just over €22 million to last until 2015 in order to achieve five objectives: developing human capacity and research infrastructure, internationalizing scientific activities and linking them with the economy, and excellence in research.

Between 2010 and 2015, the plan aims to fund around 50 new postdocs and 100 PhD students from Kosovo at top universities abroad, set up ten new laboratories and give several awards for excellence in research.

It also outlines priority areas for research as being natural resources, energy and the environment, agriculture and food safety, and medicine.

An October 23 report by the European Commission on Kosovo also called for Kosovo to “strengthen investment in education and science” if it was to meet its obligations under the Stabilisation and Association Agreement between the European Union and Kosovo.

The report said “there is a need to establish a research fund to support the activities of researchers and build the capacity of research institutions in Kosovo. The main challenges are the lack of scientifically qualified personnel, the low number of PhD students, insufficient laboratory equipment and inadequate technical know-how. The research community in Kosovo remains rather isolated vis-à-vis the international scientific community.”

Mićo Tatalović

Science journalist at New Scientist
Mićo Tatalović is environment and life science news editor at New Scientist magazine. He is also the chair of the board of the Association of British Science Writers and is actively involved in promoting science journalism in South-East Europe.
He runs the EuroScientist blog Balkan Science Beat.
Mićo Tatalović

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