Back to UNESCO WCS Home page

 

Basic Sciences for Development:
Subregional Opportunities and Challenges

Keszthely (Hungary), 18–20 January 1996

Central European Workshop

Executive Summary

Contents
Background
Opening presentations
Measuring research output
Assessment of trends
Funding of national research
The role of women
Recommendations for future subregional cooperation
Closing remarks
Contacts

Background    Back to top

The aim of the present Workshop, which was organized in cooperation with the Austrian and Hungarian National Commissions to UNESCO, was to provide an informal forum for discussion and exchange of experiences on issues relevant to the development of basic sciences in the subregion – Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia – in particular since the collapse of the former socialist regimes in 1989–1990. The meeting was also conceived in the context of preliminary preparations by UNESCO for a World Conference on Science for the Twenty-first Century in 1999.

The Secretary-General of the Austrian National Commission for UNESCO, Dr Gardos, chaired the Workshop.

Opening presentations                       Back to top

The Hungarian representative of UNESCO welcomed the participants, underlining the importance of basic research as well as the necessity and advantages of cooperation in this domain in Central Europe, especially for the countries represented at this meeting. These five countries can look back on a long history of interrelations and find themselves to some extent at the moment in comparable situations.

The Director of the castle stressed the importance of science and development for the countries represented at the Workshop, in particular with regard to industrial development.

Dr Cardos underlined the role of UNESCO in the field of science and research, which was often underestimated by those not well-acquainted with these questions. The aim of the meeting would be to map the situation of the subregion with regard to science and research, to understand developments since 1989 and to reflect the possibilities for UNESCO to help improve cooperation in this domain.

After introductory presentations by the participants, Prof. Tibor Braun from the Information Science and Scientometrics Research Unit (ISPRU) at the library of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences presented his and Andreas Schubert’s Report on Indicators of Research Output in Science from Five Central European Countries 1990-1994, which had been prepared under contract for the present Workshop.

Measuring research output    Back to top

Braun and Schubert’s report outlined the trends and patterns in research output in the five countries represented at the Workshop as reflected in the publications covered by the Science Citation Index (SCI), a database prepared by the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI) in Philadelphia, USA. Five fields were covered in the survey presented: life sciences, physics, chemistry, engineering and mathematics.

For each of the five countries, the report indicates the number of publications as well as the distribution by major fields over the period 1990–1994. Giving a comparative overview of the indicators, Braun stated that ‘there are no signs of any dramatic change either in the overall or in the disciplinary trends. An overall stagnation and a slight diminishing of the relative overweight of chemical research can be observed in the Czech Republic and Hungary, while Slovakia and Slovenia seem to gain ground in practically all fields of research.’ The report also shows trends and patterns in international collaboration. It was pointed out that, according to the data presented, efforts made by the five countries in international collaboration in science and technology are mainly directed towards more developed countries, such as Germany or USA.

Tibor Braun's presentation was followed by a lively debate on the merits of using bibliographic information to build indicators for the development of the sciences. In particular, he pointed to the important difference between statistical data, indicators and an evaluation of research output and stressed that the data presented to the Workshop were not to be understood as an evaluation. Attention was drawn to the value, but also to the weaknesses, of statistical methods. In particular, care had to be taken to eliminate misleading interpretations as far as possible. The particular problem of research results (e.g. in the life sciences) in the Central European countries not being part of the Philadelphia database (Science Citation Index) was discussed. Furthermore, the methodological difficulties in ‘categorizing’ research was brought up.

Other issues tackled in this connection were:    Back to top

  • citation indexes and their accessibility in particular fields of science;
  • the value of quotations (which is not necessarily a sign of quality);
  • the artificial dividing line between research and academia (introduced according to the model of the former USSR);
  • the problem of brain drain (As far as the latter was concerned, attention was drawn to the different forms of brain drain, i.e. permanent versus non-permanent, internal versus external);
  • the question of science as a self-organizing system and the channelling of financial resources (which are subject to change in economic conditions).

The participants in the Workshop concluded that no single indicator on its own could serve as a reliable management tool for science policy-makers. Central factors in the research system were manpower, information and financial resources. All of these factors were quantifiable. Thus, it does not seem difficult to get a clear overview of the input factors. Output – knowledge – is however much more complex and not quantifiable. The only aspect – if any at all – which can be quantified is publication output. Output – even with the same input in terms of manpower, information and financing – can lead to very different kinds of output, such as basic knowledge, applied results, scientific and technological innovations, as well as being able to be seen as generating new financial means (e.g. via patents, contracts...).

Well-functioning communication networks were identified as crucial to good further development in the field of basic research. Attention was drawn to the importance of creating a computerized database on basic research activities, as shown by the successful Hungarian case.

What would thus be needed was a combination and/or set of indicators which would shed light on various interrelated aspects of the research and development (R&D) system, such as human and financial resources (level of R&D financing, funding patterns of basic and applied research), institutional setting and structures (government/ university/ private sector, networks of R&D institutions), science and technology policy legislation/framework, etc.

Assessment of trends    Back to top

The Workshop examined the country reports prepared by the national experts. After a long discussion on the different reports presented, the participants agreed that more and more standardized information would be needed and that the experts from the respective countries should rewrite the short national reports mainly following the structure of the contribution from the Czech Republic.

Funding of national research    Back to top

Particular attention was directed to the question of how research money was being distributed within a given national research system:

  • Should money be allocated to institutions, which take the responsibility and develop their own research policy, to particular projects (which are not necessarily linked to an institution) or directly to the researcher (personal grants)?
  • Are there many different institutions that allocate research grants (diversity of funding mechanisms)?
  • What is the relation between basic research and applied research with regard to the financial resources put at their disposal?

It was stressed that it cannot be assumed that knowledge produced (and financed) within a national context will automatically benefit also national firms. If there is no innovative national industry, knowledge will be mainly used by foreign private companies which channel the (potential) financial gains abroad.

For Slovenia, it was reported that, even though the government will not follow a bottom-up approach to funding research projects, it will nevertheless try to stimulate those research programmes which are given priority by the scientific community. The decision-making will lie with the government board composed of scientists.

The relations and percentages of financial support for basic and applied research were discussed. In most countries it was expected that industry would subsidize development activities and that as a consequence the government could spend less money. As already stated, this is becoming increasingly difficult and complex because of the situation national industries are in and the predominance of bigger multinational enterprises in the domain of advanced technologies.

A further central question concerned the fact – as stated by the Slovakian representative – that most of the innovations are coming from outside Europe. However, as is frequently stressed, the initiators of these ideas are often of European origin (brain drain).

In contrast to the Slovenian report, in Slovakia funding for research is realized through grant agencies for science and development applying the bottom-up approach.

The role of women    Back to top

Lastly, the important issue concerning the role of women in the development of basic sciences was discussed. The representative of Slovenia was pleased to inform the participants in the Workshop about a constant increase in the number of female scientists, especially in the field of chemistry, although no specific measures had been introduced by government authorities in this respect. It was also reported that the Slovenian National Commission had recently organized a roundtable on this question. The Slovenian authorities are quite confident about future prospects for women who wish to pursue scientific careers.

From the Austrian side, it was reported that a law had been introduced in 1995 to try to avoid discrimination against women in the public and private sectors. The hope is that this will lead to a decisive improvement in the job situation for women in the domain of basic research and that, in the long term, it will also lead to an increase in the number of women in leading positions in the research system.

Recommendations for future subregional cooperation    Back to top

Future cooperation should not only deal with basic sciences but in particular also consider issues of science and education policies (e.g. compatible curricula development). Subregional cooperation is important for geographical reasons but also due to common problems that have to be faced in the near future. It was identified as a central aim to foster interdisciplinary research contacts within the subregion.

Priorities for future cooperation were identified:

  • Tibor Braun proposed establishing a ‘Central and East European Observatory of Science and Technology’ which, based on existing models of science and technology indicators (such as those of the US National Science Board), would have the task of regularly compiling science and technology indicators for the subregion. After in-depth discussion among the participants, it was concluded that, prior to any financial commitment on the part of the interested parties, a detailed study would be needed to develop a set of indicators which would be specific to the subregion and not easily available elsewhere (avoid duplication).
  • the organization of consultations under the auspices of UNESCO on exchange of national experiences with communication mechanisms between the scientific community and governmental authorities, as well as on science policy issues as important elements for future cooperation in the subregion;
  • the coordination of discussions on higher education curricula;
  • discussion on fostering research concerned with environmental questions, transport, migration and other questions inherent to the region;
  • the facilitation of access to the major research centres within the region, as well as the strengthening of cooperation between the scientific community and the private sector;
  • etc.

These issues still need further specification. It was also agreed that there existed a manifest lack of sufficient initiatives in the subregion for proper treatment of scientific topics by the media.

The National Commissions within the subregion were asked to act as coordinators of the information exchange recommended above.

The Secretary-General of the Slovenian National Commission for UNESCO stated that she would be pleased to host the next meeting in Slovenia (Basic Research for National Development Plans Under Changing Economic Conditions – a Subregional Perspective.)

Closing remarks    Back to top

Dr Gardos expressed the hope for continuing good collaboration, stressing that the idea of regular yearly meetings on research and science policy issues would be taken into closer consideration by UNESCO.

 

Contacts    Back to top
For further information, please contact:

 

Associated Meetings List

Back to UNESCOBack to Natural SciencesBack to WCS