East and Central European science academies agree to boost collaboration, relevance to society

Science academies from across Central and Eastern Europe have agreed to strengthen ties and boost their engagement with wider society, especially policymakers and youth, in a bid to remain relevant and boost their access to European funds and international collaborations.

The agreement – emerging from a two-day meeting in Minsk, Belarus last month (11-12 June) highlights that the region’s academies have similar roles and common challenges, despite varied histories and current priorities.

Many have still to transform themselves from Soviet-style academies that oversee dedicated research institutes, but those that have already undergone reforms still face the challenge of relevance to policy and society.

“If you take academies in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, after Soviet breakdown, for example, they are scientific clubs, consisting of the members of academy – they have no relations to scientific institutions and policy,” said Igor Volotovsky, academician at the Belarus Academy of Science, who organised the workshop.

“There has to be a very close link between academies and government bodies,” he added.

Current differences in priorities of individual academies in the region could “be a basis for long-term cooperation to exchange experience to solve the common regional challenges” the agreement says.

The meeting was co-organised by the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus and supported by the InterAcademy Panel on International Issues (IAP) and the Central European Initiative. Representatives of academies including those from Poland, Czech Republic, Romania, Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus, Latvia and Montenegro attended the meeting.

Volotovsky highlighted the importance of IAP opening up to Eastern Europe through co-organising this workshop: “This was the first example of the participation of IAP in Eastern European academies.”

The meeting also signals academies’ wish to integrate more with EU research funds.

The region’s academies’ participation in the EU’s FP7 programme has been poor, he said, partly because collaborative subprogrammes organised by the European Commission in different regions of the world neglected Eastern Europe.

Yet the most gifted, prominent scientists in post-Soviet countries work in academies, and the academies should do more to expose their ability to participate in collaborative research projects, Volotovsky said.

But he added that the region’s scientists still face real limitations, language barriers in particular, when it comes to accessing EU funds.

Ljubiša Rakić, vice president of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts, and president of the programme committee for the Association of Academies of South-Eastern Europe, said that boosting regional cooperation is possible if more concrete research projects are agreed upon and funding for the projects is secured.

“But there are many promotional meetings – they are not detrimental, but they take up a lot of time and it’s always the same people attending them,” he said.

He suggested that through such meetings academies from this region are trying to assert themselves within the European science landscape, in which most of the funding comes from wealthier Western and Northern countries.

“We need a move from the promotional to workable, concrete actions and examples of research projects to create competitive projects that could be funded through FP7 – you cannot have a wish-based funding, it takes time to write grant proposals.”

“There is a great wish in the region to collaborate more, but it now needs to be transformed into activity: no-one else will bring the money to them, and proposals must be written that will be competitive at EU level.”

The meeting outcome document concluded that: “The activity of the Science Academies of Central and Eastern Europe requires strengthening cooperation and experience exchange both at the regional and IAP levels …This meeting was seen by the participants as a major step in the right direction and to open the way for more collaborative attempts.”

But without an action plan and specific funds it is difficult to see how anything significant will come out of the meeting.

Mićo Tatalović

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