Croatia bucks the EU trend of increased science funding

Croatia’s investment in science from 2005-2011 as a percentage of GDP has dropped, singling it out in the EU, according to the ‘Science, technology and innovation in Europe – 2013 edition‘ report published by the European Commission this month (12 April).

Croatia’s average annual growth rate in science investment was around minus two per cent compared with an EU average growth rate of around three per cent.

The percentage of GDP that goes to R&D in Croatia – around 0.75% in 2011 – is far below the EU average of just over 2% of GDP (the official EU target for 2020 is 3% of GDP, while Croatia appears to be aiming at reaching only 1,4%, according to the science ministry.

The only EU countries investing a smaller proportion of their GDP in science are Malta, Latvia, Slovakia, Greece, Bulgaria, Cyprus and Romania. Croatia’s neighbour Slovenia invests above the EU average, devoting 2.5 per cent of its GDP to R&D.

And while, on average, the majority of funding in EU countries comes from the business sector, in Croatia this sector is still lagging behind government funding sources.

Some 10,600 people work in R&D in Croatia, accounting for just over 1% of employed people, again lower than the EU average of around 1.7%.

Most of these people are employed by the higher education sector (4,466); the next largest R&D employer is the Croatian government (3,607), followed by the business sector (2,532). Only 18 people are employed in R&D through the private non-profit sector. These proportions are again at odds with those in the EU, where the majority of R&D personnel work in the business sector, followed by higher education and government sectors.

Croatia again lags in the proportion of its younger population (20-29 year olds) engaged in tertiary education (27% compared to the EU’s 32%), and those engaged in science, mathematics and computing studies (1.9% vs the EU’s 3.2%) and engineering, manufacturing and construction studies (4.2% vs the EU’s 4.6%).

Around 22% of students study science and engineering in Croatia, compared with almost 25% in EU; the percentage fell in Croatia between 2005 and 2010.

Poor show on innovation, patents and high tech

Croatia also has a smaller percentage of innovative enterprises than the EU (its neighbour Serbia is doing much better in this area), and this number even dropped between 2008 and 2010. Some 14% of such enterprises struggle to find skilled workers in Croatia, the report says.

Patent applications to the European Patent Office also dropped, from 33 in 2005 to 22 in 2010 (or down from 8 to 6 patent applications per million people); the EU average was 109 per million people in 2010 (a drop from 116 in 2005).

The majority of these ‘Croatian’ inventions were owned by foreign entities (almost 6o per cent), compared with approximately 10% in the EU’s.

By comparison, Slovenia’s patent applications grew from 109 to 165, or from 54 to 81 per million people over the same period, and less than 30% were foreign-owned.

When it comes to trade in high-tech goods, Croatia imports more than double the value it exports, whereas the EU imports only slightly more than it exports (export/import ratio is 0.457 in Croatia, and 0.899 in EU).

The percentage of Croatian high-tech exports also dropped between 2009 and 2011: it is now well below ten per cent of all exports.

Only 0.5% of the Croatian workforce works in high-tech manufacturing, compared to 1.1% in the EU. Employment in knowledge-intensive activities dropped between 2009 and 2011 in Croatia, while in the EU it grew.

Gender equality and ageing scientists

On the plus side, Croatia is, alongside Latvia, Lithuania and Bulgaria, the only European country where women account for more than half of R&D personnel, and the number of science students who are women is also higher than the EU average.

But the proportion of researchers who are women is still lower than 50 per cent in Croatia and the majority of people working in S&T are aged 45-64, something the sector is struggling to change in order to open up career prospects for young scientists.

Mićo Tatalović

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