EC’s Researchers’ Report 2012: results for Balkan countries

The European Union needs a million more researchers over the next decade and it plans to devote 3% of GDP to R&D by 2020 to keep up with its main economic competitors and be a knowledge-based economy, according to this year’s European Commission Researchers’ Report.

To achieve all this, it needs equal opportunities for women, attractive working conditions, open and merit-based recruitment, together with cross-border mobility, high-quality and attractive doctoral and post-doctoral training, and greater movement between the public and private sector, the report published this month says.

But how do Balkan countries, at various stages of EU accession talks, fare with respect to these science policies?

The 2012 Researchers’ Report prepared by Deloitte Consulting for the EC’s Directorate-General for Research and Innovation looks at indicators on issues such as research training and employment conditions, removal of obstacles to mobility and cross-border cooperation. Here are some highlights from its Balkan country reports.

Croatia

Croatia invests only around 0.83% of its GDP in science compared with an EU average of over 2%. Apart from lower funding, it also has fewer scientists, who are less mobile in their career options.

“Researchers’ career paths in Croatian research organisations are quite rigid and do not encourage mobility,” the report says.

Per thousand of the population aged 25-34, Croatia has 3.6 researchers compared to the EU’s 6.6 researchers. Similarly, it only has 0.9 new doctoral graduates compared to EU average of 1.5.

Worryingly, the report says, “To date, the government of the Republic of Croatia has not taken any concrete action or developed plans for PhD training development.”

Most of those graduates are not coming from outside Croatia and the EU: Croatia has only 2.5% of doctoral candidates coming from outside the EU, compared to 19.4% in the EU. And despite advertising more than the EU average number of jobs on the EURAXESS jobs portal, many jobs are not open to foreigners.

“Publicly-funded research jobs often require Croatian citizenship, which excludes incoming researchers of different citizenship,” it says.

Croatian research institutions lack policies stipulating that they publish job vacancies in English, or on Europe-wide online platforms such as EURAXESS. They also lack transparency in their hiring process: they don’t make it their policy to publish the composition of selection panels for jobs or establish clear rules for the composition of such panels.

Crucially, the percentage of Croatian publications that are part of the top ten per cent of most-cited publications worldwide is only 3.1 compared to an EU average of 10.7.

One area where Croatia beats the EU average, though, is in the number of women researchers, with 44% — one of the highest percentages in the EU. It also has a higher percentage of women in top roles – full professorships – 26.2% compared with an EU average of 18.7%.

Serbia

The report is not very informative on Serbia, simply rehashing some recent government strategies.

Montenegro

Montenegro suffers from brain drain and “a lack of modern research infrastructure and state-of-the-art equipment”. The latter “hampers its involvement in research activities and research cooperation with the EU”.

The government seems to be doing good things for mobility, though. It “funds doctoral students to spend at least one semester during their studies at a foreign university. In addition, PhD graduates, especially those aged 27-34, have the opportunity to spend up to one semester working at a European university on ‘unpaid leave’.”

“Montenegro is not very advanced in transferring research outcomes to the market,” the report says, though it adds: “The government has begun the establishment of links between the national SMEs [small and medium enterprises] and the scientific and research institutions.”

Macedonia

Macedonia has only 0.4 new PhD graduates per thousand people aged 25-34. Also, only 2.8% of its publications are among the most cited worldwide. However, it appears to be on a drive to boost the number of highly educated citizens and to equip its scientific laboratories.

For example, since 2008, some faculties and universities have decreased or eliminated tuition fees, and the government provides scholarships. “PhD or master’s studies candidates enrolled in one of the top 100 world universities or top 20 European universities from the Shanghai Jao Tong University ranking receive funding for their complete costs during their studies,” the report says.

“‘Equipping Laboratories for Scientific Research and Applicative Activities’ (2009-14), aims to advance research at state universities and public scientific organisations by creating and equipping research laboratories. The first list of 22 laboratories selected for financing was announced in October 2010. By the end of the project it is expected that a total of 130 laboratories will have received finance totalling EUR 60 million.”

Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH)

“In Bosnia and Herzegovina, R&D jobs are unattractive because of low salaries, lack of social security coverage, limited career incentives and poor employment opportunities,” the report says.

“BiH has suffered from the departure of its most expert and highly qualified young people. Scientists that stayed in the country left the R&D sector for better paid jobs in the private sector. This has resulted in a shortage of experienced middle-aged researchers.

“The resources for funding longer-term research or researcher mobility are almost non-existent and donor assistance is often short-term, small, and targets concrete investments in certain key areas, such as S&T infrastructure and modernisation of laboratories.”

There are various efforts and measures to improve the situation, but the governments in Bosnia and Herzegovina have still not: developed any measures to improve researchers’ employment skills and competencies; adopted concrete measures to increase researchers’ salaries; promoted concrete measures to attract and retain ‘leading’ national, EU and third-country researchers; promoted any concrete measures encouraging researchers to move from the public to the business sector and vice-versa; or put in place concrete measures to promote gender equality in the research profession or to increase the number of female researchers in top-level positions/decision-making bodies.

The major difficulties in promoting mobility are the lack of a specific institution dealing with mobility; insufficient infrastructure for exchange and dissemination of information related to researcher mobility; and the administrative barrier of obtaining recognition of foreign degrees in Bosnia and Herzegovina, regardless of the nationality of the person.

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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