Varvara Trachana: Innovative and competitive researchers: a must for society

In Greece, we have this unique and bizarre problem of the 750 faculty members hired but not appointed, and therefore being held as ‘academic hostages’. This situation is, unfortunately, taking place at the same time as the higher education and research systems are being subjected to attacks.

Indeed, austerity-driven policies are threatening the very existence of university education and scientific research in Greece. Not only because there is real danger of losing an almost entire generation of researchers of high calibre and international experience. But also because there are staff shortages and core courses in different disciplines are no longer being taught. This leads to the degradation of the quality of higher education while the reputation of Greek universities is sinking.

Meanwhile, young researchers like me and my colleagues at the Initiative of non-appointed Faculty Members of Greek Universities are not being placed. This means that the prospect of attracting other scientists from abroad sounds like a joke. This means that national and international research funds are at risk of being lost. As a consequence, opportunities for growth are fading fast.

We believe that in the difficult times that Greece and the rest of the south of Europe are facing, young, talented, innovative, highly-skilled and competitive researchers are the workforce society needs most.

Instead, there have been many policies since the beginning of the recession putting every opportunity of recovering from the crisis in jeopardy. For example, there have been cuts to the budgets of research institutes and universities by half since 2008 and threats to cut them further by another 22% in 2014. The salaries of the young lecturers have also been cut down to the absolutely unattractive level of 1,000 euros per month. The budget to renew subscriptions to scientific journals has not been approved. Meanwhile, almost 50% of the administrative personnel of the universities have been let go. Furthermore, there has been a refusal to renew the blood of institutes and universities due to recruitment freezes that have been in place for years now.

We feel that we should make it our goal to inform the society of this is path defined by our government’s short-sighted austerity-led policies.

I am not a pessimist by nature. But as a scientist I am a pragmatist. And as I scientist I expect certain results from certain actions. The path followed so far I am afraid bares little hope for the homo scientificus Europeus. This a rather definite prognosis based on the numbers of scientists flying away immediately after receiving their diploma from our universities.

Although homo scientificus Europeus is a rather successful species, it also needs a favourable environment to survive. And Europe is unfortunately turning into a very hostile habitat, endangering its very existence. In order to avoid this nightmarish scenario many changes need to happen.

A few important actions, listed below, are among those that need to be taken:

  • Increase the percentage of GDP spent on R&D and guarantee its protection from austerity-driven cuts
  • Make mandatory the publication of scientific research results in open access journals, through green open access
  • Reduce the bureaucracy related to the application and evaluation of the scientific grant proposals
  • Refuse to align with the dominant voices who want absolute privatisation of both higher education and scientific research

Above all, we need to do whatever it takes—all the above actions included—to stop the brain drain. Europe needs to recognise the danger and take action before it is too late.

Varvara Trachana

Assistant Professor of Cell Biology (elected, pending appointment for over 2 years), Faculty of Medicine, School of Health Sciences, University of Thessaly, Greece, Member of the steering committee of the Initiative of non-appointed Faculty Members of Greek Universities, Co-founder and scientific advisor of Open Scholar, a not-for-profit international community-based organisation dedicated to promote open access

Varvara Trachana will take part to the forthcoming event entitled homo scientificus Europaeus: seeking a sustainable future for European science, which is due to be held at the Ateneu of Barcelona, Spain, on 8 November 2013 at 12.30.

Featured image credit: Varvara Trachana

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