Basic Research for National Development Plans
under Changing Economic Conditions
A Subregional Perspective
Gozd Martuljek (Slovenia), 2728 June 1997 Second Central European Workshop
As part of the preparations of the World Science Conference in 1999, the UNESCO Vienna Office, in cooperation with the Slovenian Commission for UNESCO and the Slovenian Science Foundation, organized a subregional workshop. The workshop was organized as a follow-up to a first meeting which took place in Keszthely (Hungary) from 1820 January 1996 to discuss Basic sciences for development subregional opportunities and challenges.
The present workshop, which was hosted by the Slovenian Commission for UNESCO was attended by experts designated by UNESCO National Commissions in the following countries: Austria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia. The meeting was chaired by the Secretary-General of the Slovenian Commission for UNESCO, Mrs. Klemen-Krek. Associate Professor Dr Ulrike Felt from the Institute for Science, Theory and Research of the University of Vienna acted as resource person.
The workshop noted that the ever-closer links between the science system and the economic system, as well as the reciprocal influence on their development, had become more and more visible in recent years. In this connection, observation was made of a fast expansion of the market for knowledge, which has become wider and more differentiated than ever before, as well as an increased marketability of science even in the domain of basic science. Terms like knowledge society or information society have become highly visible labels reflecting this fundamental change.
These trends were considered as being linked scientists' readiness to become involved in different and challenging problems in heterogeneous contexts outside the core or the science system. On the other hand, they seemed to also manifest the results of the structural and financial pressure that the system is exerting on the researchers. This latter aspect in particular was underlined by several experts throughout the meeting.
Both the market of knowledge and the marketability of (basic) science are further driven by an intensification of international economic competition. Science-based industries have come to play a central role in the economic system and academia is expected to contribute intensively to this industrial development.
Scientific knowledge has thus become a decisive factor for economic growth. Hence, the socio-economic development of regions or nation-states depends increasingly on this resource.
However, even though there seems to be great awareness about the interconnection between science and economics, the subregion does not seem to possess a sufficiently good understanding of the precise nature of the flow between academia and industry of knowledge and know-how.
As underlined by an expert from Hungary, survey research carried out with regard to the question of knowledge transfer revealed that about one-third of knowledge used within industrial enterprises comes from external sources, one-third from companies with in-house research and development (R&D) and that one-third is so-called tacit knowledge embodied by individual researchers. This latter kind of knowledge and know-how can thus be made accessible only through scientists mobility.
In particular, the issue of mobility and its role in knowledge transfer emerged as a common thread throughout the discussions at the workshop. It was agreed that this issue deserved priority attention when envisaging improving the interface between the science system and the economic system.
With ever-increasing globalization, however, and due to the fact that new communication technologies give quasi-simultaneous access to information and lmowledge all over the world, the science system has to respond to these changes at the national as well as at the regional level. As a consequence, even if the experts agreed that there was a close relationship between excellence in (basic) science and international economic competitiveness at the national level, this correlation could be regarded as being neither direct nor straightforward anymore.
Thus, a variety of different complementary measures needed to be thought of to ensure improvement in local knowledge transfer. Two main categories of effort to be made were identified by the workshop. On the one hand, particular strategies needed to be developed to make sure that regionally/nationally produced knowledge could be turned into economic benefits. On the other hand, efforts had to be made to facilitate the most direct and quick access to advanced scientific knowledge and information which are more or less freely circulating in global networks.
As all countries represented at the meeting were of a relatively small size, the amount of genuine scientific knowledge produced was low compared to the worldwide knowledge production. Thus, the meeting concluded that knowledgeimport' and its effectiveness played a decisive role for both the national science system and the economic system.
As a consequence, a number of important policy issues have risen not only for decision-makers but also for scientists about how best to reorganize the interface between the science system and the economic system in ways that respond to these new challenges. In particular, the experts underlined the need to create awareness that nation-states or regions needed (basic) science to produce knowledge which could then be tumed into viable (i.e. with economic or social benefits) technologies. This said, it was also necessary to establish mechanisms by which knowledge produced within other frameworks at the international level could be imported and made accessible to the national economic system.
The workshop continued to discuss the different national/local problems arising in this context and some attempts were made to respond to this changing framework for the development of basic research and exchange ideas about possible medium-term strategies.
While there was general agreement that scientific knowledge had become a central factor in the positive development of the socio-economic system, there was also growing awareness that the production of scientific knowledge was neither predictable nor could be precisely planned.
Thus, funding of basic research always needed to be regarded as risk capital to a certain degree. Further recent analyses have pointed to the fact that scientific knowledge is increasingly produced in the context of application and in temporary, transdisciplinary configurations of researchers. A central question thus turned around the question of who should take the risk to invest in basic research and how knowledge flow could be optimized by certain measures and thus the risk minimized for all those involved.
The large majority of experts underlined in this context that the development of all modern technologies is science-based and that the necessary knowledge transfer would have to be seen as closely linked to the mobility of researchers. One important aim would thus be not only to permit a flow of researchers from academia to industry and back, but also to make this exchange attractive for researchers. Although some efforts have already been made (e.g. Austria has a special programme offering university researchers the temporary possibility of working in an enterprise, with the possibility of returning to his or her university position), a lot of progress still needed to be made.
The issues that were raised in the discussion under this agenda item addressed three main aspects.
Furthermore, the workshop noted that knowledge and information were increasingly circulating in global networks; however, the science system still still to be regarded as being rather national/local. Therefore, the science system was increasingly experiencing tensions between acting at the local level and being global at the same time. Experts agreed that funding for basic science still came to a large degree from the nation states (or national industry) and only far smaller parts are allocated by supranational funding bodies. Moreover, the career structures of scientists were very much tied to national traditions. Lastly, the institutional framework and organization of research were also strongly shaped by their historical development and the local context.
It was therefore important to keep in mind that national differences or local traditions made a valuable contribution to cultural diversity within the international science system. In this sense, any measures taken should allow enough space for free development and for national choices.
The above-mentioned considerations also meant that it had become increasingly important to build up structures which allowed the development of efficient procedures for taking advantage at the local level of the knowledge produced internationally. What could such interfaces look like or how could the existing ones be optimized? How did one link up successfully to international networks?
Concretely, two sets of measures to improve the linking-up with international developments were mentioned by participants. The first was connected to the funding procedures which could put incentives toward a better international integration of the national research projects. Thus, knowledge transfer would be ensured. This would simultaneously solve the problem of smaller countries in which scientific expertise and excellence could not be present in all areas of research.
Choices have thus to be made which can however be counterbalanced by building cross-national networks of expertise. In this context geographic closeness, as it is the case for the countries represented at this workshop, can be regarded as a definite advantage to make those networks function in a smooth and efficient way. It was reported at the meeting to give but one example that, in Hungary, strategic research is funded particularly in areas which do both: facilitate European integration and support regional development.
The second set of measures concerns mobility programmes for researchers. It was stated by most experts that, once having left their home country, young researchers tend not to return. Therefore, measures needed to be taken on the one hand to facilitate the going abroad of young researchers, while on the other hand a return to the home country had to be made attractive. Only in that way could mobility programmes become a productive tool for improving the functioning of national science systems.
One concrete example of such a measure to attract researchers back to their home country was reported by a Hungarian participant. The Hungarian research foundation OTKA has taken measures against the brain drain of young scientists by offering a certain number of fellowships for younger researchers in order to facilitate their return to Hungary. By building up efficient cooperative ties and ensuring good exchange mechanisms, one hoped to lessen the negative effects caused by the lack of infrastructure and the difficulties in communication and networking.
While it has been assumed for quite a while that basic knowledge produced in a particular national context would also benefit automatically the local economic system, growing trends toward globalization suggest that this would no longer hold true. Linked to this, the question rises about who then should provide the funding for basic research? Should the state remain one of the central funders of basic research and if so by what means? What structures or incentives can be introduced to make investments more efficient? If industry is meant to become a central actor in financing basic research then the question of global industrial networks and their strategies for investment in local research centres has to be discussed.
There was general agreement that the funds invested by industrial enterprises were clearly directed toward application-oriented research and would only rarely finance more broader research perspectives. To attract applied research money on a larger scale and to use parts of the funds in order to do basic research as a side-product was reported to show major problems. As researchers have a limited time budget, most of their energy thus flows in the acquisifion of research money and in doing the actual work so that little is left over to invest in basic research. Therefore, the conclusion was that such an approach did not seem fruitful.
In fact, when discussing the different options of how to attract funds for basic research, it became very clear that basic research needed govermnent sponsorship, even if the institutions (university or research laboratories) were autonomous in the administration of their funds. Long-range national goals could not be achieved by simple market mechanisms.
However, it was judged positive by the representatives of the different countries that new actors (e.g. private research laboratories, non-university research laboratories) appear on the science scene. In this way, a kind of science market was being created and new tasks and orientations of research could develop.
However, it was also stressed that in most of the Central and Eastern European countries this scientific market was mainly built on public support and could not rely on private money. In these countries, the private sector was still not strong enough to contribute to the maintenance of the scientific institutions in a meaningful manner. Indeed pressure would need to be exerted in order to make them invest more in basic research, which was also the case in most of the developed industrialized countries. It was reported that even in the case of Austria, which is still in a somewhat better overall financial situation, the amount of money spent by industry on R&D is far too low as compared to other industrialized countries.
Speaking of a market of knowledge and the marketability of (basic) research, we are confronted with the question of the rules governing this market and who should be the actors involved in defining them? This is a question central to the further development of the science system, since the economic system and basic research function are subject to a completely different logic and time cycles.
Indeed, it was underlined that apparently the goals set for the science system were increasingly becoming of a short term nature: both tax-payers and policy-makers expected a quick return on intellectual and financial investments. Accountability for the money spent and transparency were important criteria for scientists to meet. Thus, an obvious and virtually unavoidable tension becomes visible caused by the necessary interaction between the economic system, which generally goes for short- and medium-term benefits and the science system, which tends to function in long-term cycles.
In this context, it was reported by several representatives that traditional free research (defined by researchers more or less individually and controlled by their internal criteria) was declining and giving place to a more top-down guided research. Government, research councils, funding agencies but also industry were about to play a growing role in orienting research activities even in the field of basic sciences.
Strategic research programmes which limit the thematic horizon and rather short time scales seem to be the future research mode. Less or relatively less money is spent on direct transfer payments to research institutions and science policy is directed towards higher competition among researchers for funds.
This, however, does not only affect the actual carrying out of research but also means that the time cycles in which researchers have to think are getting ever shorter. This might have rather negative medium- and long-term consequences for the production of knowledge. Continuity in knowledge production could be disrupted to satisfy short-term economic interests and lead to a growing fragmentation of results.
The question of whether or not the existing institutional structures were able to respond to the changes diagnosed above was also touched upon in this context. Besides the classical university structures and the non-university research institutions (be they public or private), would it be suitable to implement different, more flexible structures in answer to new demands? However, there were no clear ideas or directions expressed in the discussion. So far the external pressure on the science system is so high that solutions at this rather global level are not discussed in depth.
With the increasing intrusion of science and technology (S&T) into our everyday life, with the perception of basic science leading to potentially harmful consequences when turned into applications and with the continuous need for public funding in the domain of basic research, the question of public perception of science and public accountability has come to play an important role in the subregion. This point was especially addressed by the Czech representative. He stressed that not only pseudo-scientists and alternative knowledge systems in fields like medicine could do harm to science but also those who were not able to distinguish between scientific and pseudo-scientific information. Thus, the question of how to communicate science better to the public and of how to make it more understandable was posed. This question was however also seen as being linked to the necessary public support for sustained scientific development.
There was another common thread running through the discussions, namely the human resource problem the science system is confronted with. In particular, the representative from the Czech Republic deplored the apparent lack of younger generation scientists entering basic research. The best students were generally leaving after terminating their basic education at university. This did not only mean a loss of know-how and creative resources but also an ever increasing average age of scientists.
As far as Hungary was concerned, this problem was reported in the field of natural sciences. The reasons for this lay mainly in the lack of financial attractiveness of a scientific career and also in the extremely bad working conditions. The expert from Croatia added that, as the pay was extremely low, those who stayed were not necessarily of good quality and it was extremely difficult to motivate them to invest more time than absolutely necessary. Thus, even for the small amounts of money spent on the science system, the output was extremely bad.
Basic research and knowledge transfer have to be understood as closely intertwined with human resource questions. All the participants underlined that measures have to be taken to make basic research attractive to younger people. This does not only mean to make the key role of basic research for S&T development more visible but in particular to offer to that target population decent career perspectives and working conditions. It also means that the significance of science and technology has to be conveyed much earlier to the coming generation of scientists. If no such measures are taken within a relatively short time horizon, this might seriously damage the national science systems and the economic and social development of the region.
The participants in the workshop expressed the wish that this central topic be treated in detail at a future meeting. The delegate from the Czech Republic offered to study the possibilities of organizing the next workshop in the Czech Republic.
In order to ensure knowledge transfer, the mobility of researchers has to be promoted. This means not only creating the necessary networks, but also putting the financial means at their disposal and implementing accompanying measures (possibility of coming back to ones former position, job opportunities for spouses, etc.) to allow for this mobility. This is the only way to ensure an effective exchange of knowledge and know-how. As more concrete measures for building up networks and exchange, three were mentioned which could be realized on a medium- and short-term basis:
Strategies have to be developed which allow an improvement of the interface between the market (which is developing at an ever increasing speed) and the education system in which the universities play a central role. Flexibility and the capacity to react to these fast changes are both central skills that students will have to acquire during their studies.
Even if market mechanisms come to play an increasingly important role, it is primordial to stress that the nation-state holds a central responsibility in the funding of basic research. It is important to counteract the threatening fragmentation of research, to assure a continuing free flow of information and knowledge, but also to make sure that research in areas of general societal but of little economic relevance is nevertheless pursued.
Particular attention has to be paid to a considerable improvement in the relation between science and the public. Science has to find its place in our culture and the way science works, as well as the knowledge produced, have to be brought closer to people. In particular, younger people should be offered more possibilities to come into close contact with science. In this sense, it was also stressed that a common European space has to be created in which basic science plays an important role. Put more explicitly:
The workshop noted that it had been more than twenty years since the problematic of marginalization of women in the science system both at the level of research and in policy-making was first been pointed to and ever since it had become a concern for policy-makers at national as well as international levels. The primary concern was not only to offer equal work opportunities to men and women in the science systems thus being guided by considerations of equity and human rights , but it was also underlined that differences in biology, in social presuppositions and interests, and in the organization of the production of knowledge would ensure gender-differing interactions with nature. Thus, more or less excluding women's approaches to science would limit the number of productive directions in which to foster scientific development.
To the extent that women were excluded from defining the questions and problems S&T should tackle, what a culture knew about nature disproportionately represented men's interests, needs and hopes (UNESCO World Science Report 1996). But it clearly also impinged upon the way scientific inquiry and the teaching of science were organized and upon the cultural values that were handed over to students and to the public.
In recent years, mechanisms and procedures to improve the situation have more or less been discussed continually in various countries of the subregion and some first efforts have been made to put them in place. However, so far, the success of these measures has remained well below the expected results.
Also, the entire extent of women's underrepresentation remains obscure due to the absence of full and comparable data and other statistical material. At the meeting, no comparable data could be presented on the representation of women at the different hierarchical levels, which indeed turns out to be the central question. While the number of female students has risen during the last decades and is now roughly equal to that of male students, fewer women enter a scientific career. Norway was cited as an example illustrating the fundamental character of the problematic: although Norwegian universities have been open to women since 1822, women are today still strongly underrepresented in the higher ranking positions in academia.
Empirical studies show that the number of women in universities and research institutions further drops at each stage of higher qualification. In the final analysis, only very few women make their way up into the higher ranks of the science system both in research positions and in the science policy area. By not integrating women in a satisfactory way therefore, an important creative resource and intellectual potential is lost for the science system.
Furthermore, the workshop stressed that, although countries may have similar cultures, economic systems and histories, there may be large variations in women's experiences with science. While in some countries, particular fields may enjoy a high participation bof women, the situation might be completely reversed in a neighbouring country. This hints at subtle and not easily discernible exclusion principles at work which are rooted also in the local culture.
Therefore, only detailed reports on the situation of women in the different countries of the subregion and in the different disciplinary areas could open deeper insights into these underlying mechanisms. The reports presented at the meeting were unfortunately rather different in type and thus direct comparison seemed difficult. Thus the conclusion will have to remain on a more general level.
A Hungarian participant presented detailed data seen from the angle of the funding agency for basic research. From the Slovenian side, a research study report was discussed analysing the position of female scientists as university assistant professors and teaching assistants with regard to their academic career and whether, or to what extent, the principle of equal opportunities for both genders was currently being applied. From the Austrian side, statistical data showing the percentage of women within the different hierarchical positions at universities were presented. They are produced by the Austrian Ministry for Research and Transportation on a biannual basis in order to survey the effects of legal measures ensuring the equal treatment of highly qualified women within the framework of universities (public sector), these measures having been put in place some years ago.
From the Slovakian side, no research on women in science was presented, but the representatives of the country judged the situation as being relatively positive; however, only overall average figures of the percentage of women in science were taken as a basis for this judgment and there were no details communicated about the relation between the number of women and the level of the position they occupy. The other countries present had no details on this question
A number of questions were addressed and some possible options for improvement formulated.
In order to be able to devise efficient procedures to improve the situation of women in science, the structural and institutional barriers which they encounter have to be analysed in detail. What are the central stages of scientific career development and what are the kinds of criteria applied there? What seem more obvious reasons for the hindrances women come across to advancing in their scientific career?
Under this item, a recent report from the international science journal Nature was cited showing clear inequalities on the part of a Swedish funding agency when allocating research money. It turned out that, as the selection mechanisms were mainly taken care of by men, the criteria they apply to womens research projects were closely linked to their own experiences and ideas about ideal careers.
In detail, the following issues were mentioned as problematic with regard to women's careers in science:
In fact, with the exception of Austria, which had a clear plan to foster women in the domain of public employment (Frauenförderplan) and thus also in science, which was put in place in 1995, the other countries did not report specific legal measures. In most countries, not even reliable figures were available concerning this issue. This means that figures need to be collected on the number of female researchers and their position in the hierarchy, as well as the discipline they are working in.
Generally, a series of visible and invisible barriers and behaviour patterns militate against women entering, staying and excelling in the science system. The notion of 'micro-inequities' has been coined and it describes those exclusionary behaviour patterns that are often so small that they go unnoticed. Yet, cumulatively ,they create a climate that discourages women from entering and staying in the field of S&T. Unlike formal barriers, these informal traditions and practices are less easy to recognize. (UNESCO World Science Report 1996) Thus measures have to be undertaken locally to detect these 'micro-inequities' and to set measures to encounter them.
In order to be able to fully appreciate the contribution of women to the science system it is important not to ignore their cultural values and to accept the genderspecific aspects of knowledge and value systems. A shift from a deficiency model of women to a deficiency model of science and science education is increasingly widely regarded as crucial if women are to receive equitable treatment in the sciences.
Furthermore, the impact of different workstyles of women on the way science is being carried out has to be taken into consideration. Observers stress that women tend to reduce direct competition, to prefer work in small domains where they can fully develop their expertise and demonstrate different publication behaviour. This would however mean that the set of values and criteria determining the development of the science system and future policy guidelines needs to be reconsidered. Consequently, women have to get involved in defining criteria and science policy issues.
Most studies of the position of women within the science system point to the drop-out effect of women when they move up in career. This phenomenon also labelled the leaky pipeline phenomenon in higher education and academia needs to be investigated in detail and measures developed against it. This also explains why a simple increase in the number of female students in a field is not a sufficient strategy as long as the pipeline continues to leak.
Lastly, the phenomenon has to be considered that some increases in the numbers of female researchers in particular work areas within the science system can also have essentially negative reasons. This is for example the case when men are deserting scientific institutions for more lucrative jobs outside particular research areas which are regarded as less prestigious. The representative from Croatia reported that this phenomenon was observable in his country. And it has been found in case studies that the reputation of a particular scientific area (and the pay equity as well as equity in research funding) tends to correlate with the percentage of male scientists working in this area.
It is important to create a better knowledge basis about the situation of women in the different national science systems. This would not only mean a comprehensive and fine-grained collection of data and information, but would also mean regular surveys in order to see the direction in which development is going.
A lot of effort has to be invested in creating a surrounding which enables women to enter a scientific career. This means concrete measures like places to look after the children, flexible work organization, different career timing, and many more. It thus means to accept new ways of organizing research which would allow both scientific work as well as family activities.
Particular attention should be drawn to micro-inequifies. While countermeasures can be undertaken more easily against more visible barriers, these hardly perceptible acts of discrimination demand much more sensitivity and rather close consideration of the issue. Career structures and working conditions on the day-to-day level should be investigated closely in order to better understand the functioning principles within the local scientific communities.
It is important to give more women the possibilities to enter strategic positions both in the scientific sphere and in science policy and thus participate lively in the formulation of the rules governing the functioning the science system. It is of central importance, as science is a very formalized system and hierarchies play a strong role.
Lastly, it should be stressed that the gender issue in science requires due attention in order to improve the science system. Women representing an unutilized creative potential so far could in many ways contribute substantially to the development of the science system.