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Address delivered during FORUM III

by Dr Jan Krzysztof FR..CKOWIAK
Under Secretary of State
State Commission for Scientific Research

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It is my pleasure to inform you that the Polish delegation agrees with and supports the proposed content of the documents being prepared by the World Conference on Science. We expect that the ‘Declaration on Science on the Use of Scientific Knowledge’ and the ‘Science Agenda - Framework for Action’ will serve well the development of world science in the future.

And now let me raise an issue of a country in transition. I shall focus on the example I know best - that of my own country. In June 1989, Poland began its transition towards democracy and the market economy. Ten years after the rejection of a totalitarian system, we are analysing our successes and problems. We quickly emerged from a deep crisis and inflation fell from 600% in 1990 to the current single-digit figure. Over the last five years, gross domestic product (GDP) has risen by nearly one-third and industrial output by more than half. Over the same period, foreign cumulated investment in Poland increased six-fold, reaching USD 31 billion last year.

However, this policy has also brought about some problems in the area of public finances. In a large measure, the problems have affected science. Budget expenditure on research relative to GDP fell from 0.76% in 1990 to 0.46% in 1998. Despite rapid growth in GDP, this means a decrease – in real terms – of research funding over the last ten years.

The increasing level of education is the most solid foundation for long-term development of a country. Therefore, we give the highest priority to the educational function of research. This function is performed – above all – in institutions of higher education. Within the last eight years, the number of students has risen three-fold (from 400 000 to 1.2 million), including an important increase from zero to 300 000 students in private universities.

The economic function of scientific research is the second fundamental priority of our country, although we would like this priority to be financially supported largely by the private sector. This goal is served by the state-conducted innovation policy with a strong emphasis on its regional character.

Unfortunately, the quick growth of the economy is not matched yet by an increased demand for innovation. Although extrabudgetary spending on research keeps pace with the growth of GDP, increasing much faster than budgetary spending, the proportion between the two is 60% to 40%, still unfavourable in comparison with the developed countries.

The development of international scientific co-operation is our third-most important goal in the domain of scientific research. Among others, I can mention here some international UNESCO projects being realized or prepared in collaboration with Polish researchers. These are the International Institute for Molecular and Cell Biology, the International Centre for Dense Magnetised Plasma and the Auger Project concerning observation of cosmic rays.

Funding is always a sensitive question, which I would like to touch on now. Taking up great research challenges today requires enormous resources and international multilateral collaboration. Scholars from the ‘catching-up’ countries are in many cases equal partners in this co-operation. It is difficult, however, to maintain equality when it comes to the practical utilisation of common achievements. Even basic research more and more often results in findings quickly gaining economic significance. But today only the strongest companies can take advantage of being the first in mastering new technologies. Collaboration in research may then mean that the economically weaker parties support their stronger partners with their intellectual and financial effort.

The costs of co-operation are frequently split in proportion to the GDP of the participating countries. However, the economic benefits resulting from the collaboration do not accrue to the respective parties in the same proportion. The ability to absorb new technologies is not directly dependent on the potential of a country’s economy. Only after a certain ‘economic critical mass’ has been reached can the resources invested in research be put to good use.

It follows that it is necessary to carefully analyse the division of the costs of international scientific co-operation. It is particularily important when the participating countries differ markedly in the capacity of their respective economies and when the co-operation may, or should, yield practical benefits. There is a need for a new approach, for example, the one negotiated in the agreements regarding the accession of new countries to the 5th Framework Programme of the European Union. These agreements depart from the principle of the proportionality of the financial contribution for research to GDP – in favour of the ‘catching-up’ countries.

We are willing to do – and we are doing - everything we can to transform Poland from a ‘catching-up’ country into a country that has already caught up with the developed world, a country that has reachhed an ‘economic critical mass’. It is the responsibility of science to support this process. We would expect the new approach to international scientific co-operation to help perform the task more effectively - the task being of vital importance not only to my country.


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