EU’s promise to boost lagging science in Eastern Partnership countries

The EU is hosting a summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, later this month (28-29 November) to sign trade and association deals with Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, as part of its Eastern Partnership programme (also offered to Azerbaijan, Armenia and Belarus).

The agreements are meant to improve economic and development ties and potentially pave the way to eventual membership in the EU. They promise to boost cooperation in research and higher education between the EU and the Eastern Partnership countries (EaP).

The programme already supports interaction between EU and partner countries’ citizens, focusing on students, academic staff, researchers, young people, and cultural actors and there is cooperation in the areas of education, higher education, research and innovation, youth and culture.

“Attention is being paid to modernisation issues, building capacity in research and innovation, and the mobility of students, teachers, researchers and young people,” a roadmap document says. “The Platform also promotes building cooperative links with the EU in all areas of research, including research infrastructures.”

The roadmap envisages increased participation of researchers and research entities from the EaP countries in opportunities under the 7th Framework Programme for Research and Innovation (FP7), by opening up grant calls for the participation of EaP researchers and research organisations and through the preparation of targeted information, information sessions and events on FP7 and Horizon 2020 research programmes.

It also envisages building increased capacity of civil servants dealing with research and innovation and an increase in dialogue, networking and coordination of research work between the EU and EaP countries.

And it hopes to draw together strands of cooperation in research and innovation, including mobility schemes for students, researchers and academics, to build a Common Knowledge and Innovation Space with the EaP countries.

“2012-13 should also see the increased participation in the EU 7th Research Framework Programme through building research capacity and improved dissemination of knowledge on funding opportunities, in particular by the locally appointed focal point contacts and sharing of best practice on, in particular, the independent peer review of research proposals,” it says. “Efforts to improve the links between partner countries’ national Research and Education Networks and GEANT will be made. Overall during 2012-13, efforts will be undertaken to work towards the development of a Common Knowledge and Innovation Space.”

But how are these countries doing when it comes to investment and performance in science? A recent letter published in Nature (6 November) shines some light on the issue.

Alexander Gorobets, from Sevastopol, Ukraine, analysed the research performance of some of these nations by looking at per capita gross expenditure on research and development from 1998 to 2010 and their number of research publications from 1998 to 2012.

He found that the research performance of most former Soviet states is still low compared with that of many Western countries.

But the Baltic countries — Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia — which already joined the EU, in 2004, were much more productive in 2012 than Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.

Their publication output improved as research funding went up, except in Georgia, which despite not having had an increase in GERD between 1998 and 2005, still managed to more than triple its number of research publications between 1998 and 2012.

“The success of Georgia and the Baltic states since 1998 may be connected with their adoption of internationally recognized standards for doctorate degrees and academic promotion,” he writes in Nature. “These countries now use a Western PhD model dedicated to original research, and career advancement depends on producing international peer-reviewed publications — which is not the case in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and other former Soviet states.”

Link to letter in Nature

Mićo Tatalović

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