Spain: The Goverment needs to show the world it believes in science

In the last years Spanish budget in R&D has suffered strong reductions. Only in 2012 the reduction of public budget devoted to R&D was of 25% with respect to the previous year. Moreover, looking in some detail the figures one sees that the reduction in the sort of public funding to which Universities and Research Institutes may accede have decreased by 45% since 2009. That is, in only four years we have reduced almost by half the budget, falling down to the level of 2002.

The effects are already visible: the public Research Institutes –the so called Organismos Públicos de Investigación (OPI) –whose ordinary budget depends on the Government funding can barely survive. The last call for research grants which allocated national funding to all research teams in the country, including universities, took place in December 2011. Funds from that call have not been released yet. And it is unclear when the next call will be published. Moreover some projects already approved have been stopped or cancelled due to exceptional measures to reduce the deficit.

In addition, the Government has ruled that only 10% of the vacancies in OPI and Universities will be filled. Thus, this situation has left hundreds of young postdoctoral and young researchers without options to find a position, except by moving abroad. The Spanish contribution to international bodies and institutions has also been reduced, cancelled or delayed. All this has been justified as a necessary consequence of the recession, disregarding the fact that it is precisely because of an insufficient investment in R&D that the recession has been so virulent in our country. Moreover, the amounts of funding concerned are minimal in comparison to the whole functioning budget of the State. And that the EU Commission has precisely recommended that Spain does not cut funds for R&D.

Besides the scarcity of funds, what Spanish researchers worry even more about, is that the Government gives the perception that it does not value research. Indeed, there is no clear political program of the Government for research and innovation, despite of the official declarations on its importance for the future of the country. Indeed, R&D has now been integrated into the Ministry of Economy, which has so far devoted all its efforts and time to bank crisis and rescue. But it has done little to promote research and innovation. Moreover, the Ministry of Finances has overruled some of the Ministry of Economy’s prior decisions on R&D spending. As a result, it has spread uncertainty about what programs will survive, when they will be launched and when and how much funding will be available. This is why the confederation of Spanish scientific societies COSCE (Confederación de Sociedades Científicas de España) has urged our prime minister to set up a unified view and policy for R&D in the cabinet as a whole.

Simultaneously, the Government officially continues to claim its ambition to achieve excellence in R&D. There is nothing to object about being supportive of the importance of excellence in research. And the need for Spain to make a step in that direction would be more definite, once we have expanded our presence in the international scene. But the authorities seem to forget that excellence is a by-product of a solid and steady research system that requires, among other things, abundant resources and favourable governance. Therefore this type of rhetoric appears to be made of empty words, which are not even close to concealing the lack of investment.

Spain has successfully made a good effort in developing its own science, in the past few decades. The next step should be to make our research system become fully international, attractive, an efficient. For this purpose, we need to make changes. But, above all, we need to show the world that we believe in science. That it is a real priority for our development. And that we are reliable in our commitments with an ambitious yet affordable program, maintained throughout the years. This is the only path to excellence.

Carlos Andradas

Professor of Algebra, Faculty of Mathematical Science, University Complutense of Madrid and president COSCE

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