Serbian entity in Bosnia and Herzegovina pledges to revolutionise its “unsatisfactory” science

Republika Srpska, the Serbian entity in the highly ethnically and politically divided Bosnia and Herzegovina, has a new science strategy, complete with an action plan to internationalise its currently dismal science, link it to industry and boost funding to 0.5% of GDP by 2016.

The strategy for 2012-2016 was approved by the parliament last month (17 July) and it follows from the new science law that came into effect in January.

The current system is “unsatisfactory” and not targeted to the needs of development, the science minister Jasmin Komić says in a supporting document.

The strategy comes with what is said to be the first analysis of the state of science in the republic since the devastating war in the 1990s – official statistics had so far been non-existent, the minister says in the document.

The picture it paints is bleak.

Current science funding is estimated to be only 0.12% of GDP; scientists are not motivated to do research and do not have the interest or skill to take advantage of EU research funds; there are no adequate systems for evaluating research; there is only a small number of young researchers, patents and publications in quality journals; there is no collaboration between research and industry; research institutions have insufficient infrastructure; there is brain drain; and there are still no complete statistics on researchers, their results and equipment.

But the new strategy aims to change all that.

General aims include strengthening social awareness of the role of science and technology; creating a conducive environment for research and the development of technologies; developing human resources; strengthening collaboration with the industry sector and transfer of results from research; re-evaluating and redefining the role and tasks of science institutions; and increasing funding for science.

More specifically, there are plans to introduce an obligatory international peer-review to evaluate results, and dedicate a special fund to modernise scientific infrastructure in priority areas, as well as to set up a science and technology foundation by 2015.

One of the key measures is to establish a transparent and stimulating system of science funding through the ‘lump-sum’ model, which would embrace clear rules for the funding of research on both state and local levels.

There is also a plan to set up state awards for science, and bonuses for internationally recognised excellence, as well as to boost coverage of scientific results in newspapers and business magazines. (The ministry launched a popular science magazine, Infiniti, in April this year.)

The strategy aims to increase collaboration with EU research projects, and universities abroad, and send more scientists and students to specialise abroad, but also to attract more foreign guest lecturers and to rekindle connections with émigré scientists.

Students may also benefit from planned networks and centres for young researchers, increased involvement in research activities, and improvement of mentorship skills.

Support for the commercialisation of results will include a database of patents and industry-related research projects, and policy and funding support for R&D centres within firms.

But Husref Tahirović, a member of the Academy of Sciences and Arts of Bosnia and Herzegovina and a professor at University Clinical Center Tuzla, said the description of the state of the science sector in the strategy was still too general and a level of science funding at 0.5% of GDP – the strategy’s key goal – “truly small”.

“However, these are sufficient funds to get going if they are given to real researchers – not those who acquired PhDs from BIH’s universities during and following the war who are now calling the shots in BIH’s science but produce nothing. There are very few such real researchers but enough to link up with our scientific diaspora in big research institutes abroad, some of whom are in high positions and ready to help out.”

Nurturing a relationship with the diaspora is the way forward, but it is difficult to implement it in BIH, he added.

He said the poor science situation in Republika Srpska is comparable to the rest of BIH. Indeed, a scoping document published last year described utterly devastated system in the Croat-Bosniak entity of BIH, too, with investments still lagging far behind pre-war levels.

He added that the lack of focus on scientific collaboration within BIH evident in the strategy was “normal”, since collaboration within BIH was dictated by politics.

The country’s science remains absurdly fragmented.

Within the Croatian-Bosniak entity there are 10 administrative units (cantons), each with its own science ministry, in addition to the two ministries for the two main entities themselves (so 12 science ministries in total for a country of some 4 million people). There is a science academy for the whole of BIH, inherited from former Yugoslav republic of BIH, but the Serbian entity also has its own academy now, the Bosniak community has an NGO academy, and a separate academy for Croatians was proposed last year. There is also an existing science strategy (2010-2015) for BIH as a whole, as well as a draft strategy (2011-2021) for the Croatian-Bosniak entity, in addition to this new, Serbian, one.

“The division of political and administrative responsibilities among the three levels of government makes it very difficult to define and implement country-level science policy,” said UNESCO Science Report 2010. It remains to be seen if separate strategies, like this one, will help finally turn the tide for BIH’s science.

Mićo Tatalović

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