FROM MONEY TO SCIENCE TO SCIENCE FOR MONEY
It may sound as a cliche, but the progress in modern societies has been a result of the scientific achievements that play crucial role for the economic development. The USA, Japan and Germany for example register between 12,000 and 15,000 new patents a year. This helps them add billions of dollars to their gross domestic products (GDPs) and allocate between 2% and 3% of it for research and development activities. In contrast to them, Bulgaria may boast only four or five useful inventions a year, as well as only 0.4% of its GDP spent on science. The problem is that there is no strategy for enhancement and development of inventions in Bulgaria and businesses have no chances to make use of this hidden potential.
Thus, instead of implementing the State's policy in the sector, the Ministry of Education and Science has to speculate on
how to make the ends meet in science
For this purpose, the ministry has prepared several new models for stimulation of the scientific potential, presented in details in the long-awaited by the academic circles Strategy for Development of Scientific Researches draft. The work on the document started in 2007 and representatives of universities and scientific institutes in Bulgaria took part in its preparation. Its final version will be presented to the Council of Ministers in September and subsequently will be discussed in Parliament.
Until then, the ministry has the ambition to support the reform with own means, which it has started to mull over yet at the beginning of the year. It apportioned its budget shortly after the beginning of the year, increasing the spending on science by 43% as compared to 2007. The money in the State Scientific Research Fund swelled nearly four-fold to BGN60MN, up from the previous BGN15.9MN. The money started to be allocated to programmes and projects rather than to purposeless institutional financing. At present, Bulgaria's state budget covers only half of the maintenance costs of the scientific institutes, against 90% of the money on scientific researches five years ago. In order for the institutes to gain the remaining 50% of their maintenance, the academic teams will have to choose between
sixteen tenders and six fields of financing
for which to develop projects. At present, the most attractive are the ideas for alternative energy sources and energy saving technologies, biotechnologies and food industry, information technologies and environment protection. The average value of such a project is expected to reach BGN350,000 in 2008.
Additional stimuli have been developed for young scholars in the form of higher scholarship allowances. As of the beginning of the new school year, students with excellent grades will receive BGN120 a month, up from the present BGN90, while the sum for Ph.D. students will jump from BGN250 to BGN450 and they will be entitled to one-off bonus of BGN1,000 if they submit their thesis in time and the same bonus if they manage to defend it in a period of one year after its submission. University committees that manage to quickly organize things and hold the defence procedures of graduation papers in time will receive BGN4,000 as a bonus.
A sum of BGN16MN has been envisaged to go on the Human Resources Development programme, a total of BGN10MN of which will be allocated in the form of second scholarships to the best students and BGN2MN will be spent for training in real working environment, while the remaining BGN4MN will be distributed between Ph.D. students, post-graduate students and young scholars.
The money, however, is not a panacea and it will not be easy for the planned financial injections to put in order a sector that has not be reformed for decades. The ministry's trump-card, however, is the project for changes, leading to an entirely
new model of career development for scholars
It will modify the currently existing rules for granting scientific degrees and ranks, emphasizing their difference from scientific positions. This is the spirit of the new regulation on scientific degrees and positions that is expected to replace the presently existing Scientific Degrees and Academic Ranks Act after its approval by the Council of Ministers and the Parliament.
The author of the bulk of reforms that the Ministry of Education will propose is the chairman of the Supreme Attestation Committee, Peter Kenderov. His ideas were presented back in March 2008, but were not to the liking of a part of the academic circles. In spite of that, they remained unrevised in the draft bill since they set the principles of one of the most vanguard reforms of the present day. Kenderov proposes the Ph.D. and Sc.D. titles not to be awarded by the Supreme Attestation Committee, but by the individual universities and institutions, although the degrees will preserve their nationwide recognition. The attestation committee is to continue awarding only the titles 'professor', and 'associated professor' separating them from their functional positions which will require additional achievements and professional experience. To cut the long story short, the idea is that everybody
would get the chance to decorate themselves in scientific titles
without having to pass the clumsy procedure of the titles' official awarding. At present, these titles may be awarded only in case a university or a scientific institute officially announces public competition for these positions. After that the Supreme Attestation Committee chooses among the candidates and the scientific institution is obliged to hire the winner. That is, the awarding of the respective scientific degree is now bound with a job position. Since such positions are not frequently vacated, the career advancement to the title of associated professor or professor may take at least ten years. This is the reason why Bulgaria has no professors under 35 years of age and only twelve under 44. This is why more revolutionary rectors propose winding up of the attestation committee and all the habilitation procedures to get decentralized, and even the title of professor to be given by the respective universities. Thus, professors will be professors only at their university and their title will lose its nationwide significance.
The question, however, automatically confronts scientists and rectors. Of course, all universities want to have the power to decide who to appoint at what position, so that they may strengthen their academic teams, and get higher chances of obtaining funds for scientific researches. The same is, however, the ambition of the 'veterans' who want to have their say on the question who may become a professor and who may not.
A liberalization of the sector opens
a loophole for businesses
that allows even entrepreneurs to become professors and directly buy the titles they need. This way they will have more easily habilitated persons on board, which is one of the requirements of the European Union (EU) for financing scientific projects. At present, Bulgarian legislation allows only university teachers to be habilitated as associated professors or professors which is the reason why businesses are difficult at applying for EU funds.
And these funds are not to be disregarded at all! After in 2007 the European Commission adopted its Green Book on European scientific space and named science its priority, it intends to spend more than EUR53.2BN in the seventh framework programme on research, technological and demonstration projects (which is about 30% higher than the sum the previous sixth framework programme envisaged). This is also the programme with the highest budget of all EU programmes and it is to support small and medium-sized enterprises engaged in laying the scientific and technological foundations of industry. The idea is the EU to develop a unified internal market for science in order to catch up with the USA and Japan in this respect.
If Bulgaria manages to apply the European policy on enhancement of its scientific potential in favour of its economy, it may soon be able to boast of being a modern country.