Steering board resigns after Croatian fund merger

The steering committee of Croatia’s Unity through Knowledge Fund has stepped down after it was announced that the fund will be incorporated into the Croatian Science Foundation.

Croatia’s science ministry wants to merge the UKF with the much larger foundation in order to ensure future “sustainability of the fund”. The science foundation, which is now the central place for project-based research after an overhaul of Croatian science funding, will be responsible for managing UKF programmes.

Scientists in the country, however, fear that the UKF’s track record may be diluted in the foundation.

The fund, which is financed through the World Bank, is widely seen as a rare example of excellence in research funding in the region. “Despite its relatively limited financial contribution, UKF has become an example of good practices and successful mechanisms of scientific funding in and outside Croatia,” said UKF steering committee members in a statement announcing their withdrawal.

The initial amount the fund received from the World Bank was 39 million HRK (€5m), but this was subsidized with another 67 million HRK from collaboration under Framework 7 and further funding from industry. From 2007 to 2012, UKF-funded projects produced 312 papers.

A second World Bank loan was signed in 2013. But one call scheduled for this year has already been cancelled as it clashed with similar calls from the science foundation, according to Kristian Vlahoviček, a steering committee member and molecular biologist at the University of Zagreb.

The Croatian science ministry, however, said that UKF programmes are “continuing to be actively implemented” with 18 ongoing projects worth €2.9m and another €1.2m-programme under preparation.

Vlahoviček worries that, once they are joined, the two organisations would compete and overlap in some projects. The merger could also leave scientists involved in running the fund with a potential conflict of interest when applying for what will now be the only source of national research funding. “You don’t make a fund more sustainable by tying its hands and putting it under a structure that is its direct competition,” Vlahoviček says.

The science ministry, however, said the merger would support the “synergistic coordination” of programmes for a single fund for Croatia’s science.

This article first appeared in Research Research

Mićo Tatalović

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