Mai jos un articol pe care l-am scris in luna mai despre situaţia cercetării din România la cererea unei reviste de specialitate care circulă în Uniunea Europeană.
In a way Mr. Economic Crisis seems to be any government’s friend: it is these days the culprit, and the perfect excuse, for any unpopular measures taken by governments. Yet, just as governments struggle to find answers for immediate threats to economy and increasing social demands, history has shown time and again that crisis situations are also good oportunities for profound changes difficult to implement in normal times. So has also claimed the Romanian premier, Mr. Boc, in a recent speech. And he is right: after all, the classical way to reform a system is to first stress it at the maximum and then provide the necessary changes as a way to heal it.
As far as the research policy is concerned, the Romanian government with a little help of Mr. Crisis got the first part right: after several years of significant budget increase this year’s budget is less than 65% of last year’s. It is as close to a deadly stress as it gets, and Mr. Crisis provides the perfect excuse. Some say that the budget cut is a wise measure: pouring money into the system did not produce any visible institutional reform. For example, the capacity of the Romanian National Research Authority (ANCS) to evaluate grant proposals in the financial-bonanza times was far less developed than its ability to spend money. Therefore, many accuse the ANCS of money wasting in the 2005-2008 period. Another player, the Romanian Academy, despite being led by a renowned scientist that has been an advocate for change and despite gaining a higher level of respectability in recent times, is still organised on the soviet model. Also, there is insufficient influx of foreign-based researchers in Romania. When it comes to showing the deliverables, few could explain effectively to Mr. Pogea, the current minister of finance, that after 30 years of financial deprivations and a huge wave of braindrain, 3 years of decent financing could not have produced spectacular effects.
Indeed, the Romanian research system has been traumatized for the the past 30 years: before 1989 it suffered from the quasi-isolation and sub-financing due to the communist regime. After 1989 it suffered from a severe brain drain in conjunction with poor financing until 2005. Benefiting from a close relation with the then premier, as well as unprecedented economic boom, Mr. Anton Anton - the head of ANCS from 2005 to 2008, widely considered as a man keen on progress- flooded the system with as much money as it could absorb. It went as far as organising a (succesfull) event in which over 200 recognised Romanian scientists based abroad were invited to
But this financial increase produced also perverse effects: whereas those that deserved financing based on their scientific performance usually obtained it (and therefore - busy spending their money - softened their request for structural change) Mr. Anton’s critics claim that valuable resources went into projects with little relevance and politically placed grant-directors, therefore consolidating the advocates of the statu quo.
The November 2008 general elections promissed to be a golden moment for the Romanian research: the two main parties, PDL (center right) and PSD (left) payed special attention to research in their electoral programs. The Romanian president himself, through a commission of experts, drafted a research reform document received with quite some enthusiasm by the research community, at least the progressist part of it. Beting on yet another increase in budget many grants were contracted in 2008 and many new programs were being planned for 2009. That was counting without the Crisis. Facing the prospect of a serious shrinking of the national economy and still without an answer to the question of “what economic results has the romanian research produced?” budgets were drastically cut. Reseachers describe the situation as catastrophic: funds for already awarded projects have been cut, so that salaries and bills are not payed. Many scientists pack, again, their luggage for Western Europe or the
It is in this tense context that the most representative researcher’s NGO from Romania, Ad Astra, asked the European Commission to condition an already agreed 5 billion Euro loan to the Romanian government on a strong research commitment: 1% of GDP starting in 2010 and institutional reform. Ad Astra believes it can work since these requirements are already implicit to the loan: the Commission has asked the European Council to condition the loan on “the economic programme [that] will also include structural reform measures, in line with the country-specific recommendations by the Council in the framework of the
Wheather the Commission takes the steps suggested by Ad Astra still remains to be seen, although one has to be skeptical about it. In fact, the question that matters is the extent of the government’s commitment to research. What Ad Astra is asking for is the governing program (that is now a law) to be observed: 1% for research in 2012 (a more realistic term than the Ad Astra proposal since it is unsure that the unreformed romanian research system could absorb 1% of the GDP in 2010) as well as swift institutional reform and a relevant grant-evaluation system. With a reputation of a trustable and decisive man, Mr. Boc has now the historical chance to use the Crisis that helped him stress the Romanian research system to the maximum in order to introduce the long-waited reforms. He has a good programm, he still has people able to reform the system and, thanks to M. Crisis, he may even have a larger than expected community of Romanian scientists abroad willing to repatriate. And in them lasts the big chance of Romanian’s research revival. The Ad Astra cry of help from the Commission should give him the sense of urgency in action as well as a justification back home that he needs. Surely, the Commission could help by putting some pressure, even informal. But it can not and should not replace the decisive action of the Romanian government.
PS: two important measures have been taken on paper: 1% for research in the new “Education Law” and upfront grant payment.
PPS: textul publicat este putin mai scurt decât cel postat aici datorită constrângerilor de spaţiu.