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Making science in post-communist Romania?

Vlad Avrigeanu
"Horia Hulubei" National Institute for Physics and Nuclear Engineering (IFIN-HH)
P.O.Box MG-6, 76900 Bucharest, Romania;
vavrig@ifin.nipne.ro

1. Introduction

Ad Astra asks if Romanian researchers consider it possible or not to perform research and development (R&D) in today's Romania. A recent analysis of science in post-communist Romania [1] shows that an eventual answer should consider also the steps of the European Commission (EC) towards creating the European Research Area (ERA). The answer should include insights into Romania's R&D readiness in taking advantage of the EC's 6th Framework Program (FP6) opportunities.

An appropriate discussion of the present Romanian scientific framework should start by looking for the minimum conditions that are supposed to exist in order to bring consistent and competitive contributions within EC projects. ERA is being settled based on the excellence of previous results as well as on a sound infrastructure, which together enable the completion of innovative projects. This (?) however is not the case of Romanian R&D, and ignoring this becomes the starting point of decline for the status of both science and the entire Romanian society.

The following comments, which were also mentioned previously [2, 3] are based on the author's work since 1999 within the Romanian unit of the EURATOM (Fusion) Association and the project IDRANAP [4]. Since the last one is the only successful proposal for EC/FP5/INCO2 'Support for Centres of Excellence' of units within the Romanian Ministry for Education and Research (MEC), the IFIN-HH experience may have a particular significance in this respect.

2. Excellence of prior results vs. failure of the current infrastructure

The main point regarding R&D European-added value should be "made in Romania", although the possibility of performing work at EC standards in Romanian R&D units was not addressed. 'Excellence' in this case does not characterize the working conditions, - e.g., at the well-known Institute of Atomic Physics (IFA) founded by Horia Hulubei at Bucharest-Magurele in the 1950's - but the level of results that are obtained by the research staff. This is the reason why the IFA working conditions, below worldwide standard in the past, but worse today, should be improved with FP5 support for the IDRANAP project.

An obvious sample of the present low R&D conditions could be the 2002 budget provided by MEC for the National Library of Physics, one of the vital achievements within the five decades history of IFA. Funds became available with a 9 months delay, so as of December 2002 no international journal published in 2002 was received at the Library. Furthermore, this budget allowed the Library to subscribe to only 15 journals across the whole field of physics and related topics, in contrast to the 80 journals subscribed for in 1998. On a personal note, the only novelty at the National Library of Physics is a literally frozen library, with no heating since last summer.

Under such circumstances, one can easily see that working periods of 3 to 6 months for IDRANAP visiting scientists as well as the one-month visit/year/group available for IDRANAP local staff will be mostly formal and less efficient. These visiting periods are only highlighting the difference between the appraisal of the foreign and local scientists. The allowances of IDRANAP foreign visitors are also over one order of magnitude larger compared to salaries of IDRANAP Romanian staff, delays in their payment not being commented upon.

3. R&D enlargement outside the present EU member states

It must be emphasized that under such conditions the EU enlargement actions for Central and East-European countries (CEECs), which are already in due course at EU institutes such as the EC Joint Research Center (JRC), may have reduced efficiency in reaching some of the final aims [5] of:

  • preservation and development of knowledge and capabilities at CEECs institutes,
  • integration of CEECs efforts into existing EC/JRC programs and EU networks,
  • expansion of EC/JRC activities by additional manpower and networking, and
  • cost effectiveness achieved by bringing together EC/JRC facilities with manpower.


However, no goals can be achieved for Romanian institutes if these institutes collapse in the meantime. The opportunities and experience gained by Romanian scientists working at EC institutes, within enlargement programs, can be used in this case only within these institutes ('local enlargement' !?).

4. The EC key rule for R&D enlargement

From the very beginning [6] it was pointed out that, concerning the participation of the candidate countries in the ERA:

  • "the enlargement in the R&D area is no longer a matter of negotiation (as the relevant chapters have then been closed with all accession countries) but of practical measures to ensure the full integration of CEECs as equal partners in the ERA", and
  • "CEECs should improve their R&D infrastructure in order to better benefit from the enlargement process and prevent the actual situation of the benefits that are unevenly distributed".

It follows that responsible representatives will involve national resources in the research European Frameworks once the national R&D infrastructure is able indeed to support partnership and common benefits. The Romanian government's argument of a crisis of the national economy should not mitigate this condition but strengthen it.

The need to improve Romanian R&D infrastructure cannot be fulfilled by R&D spending at either 0.11% or 0.18% of the average gross domestic product (GDP) provided via MEC in 2002 and 2003, respectively. The request of MEC for more competitive EC/FP6 proposals from Romania becomes moot to the point of being ironic, when the latest results published worldwide are no longer available at, e.g., the National Library of Physics. In Slovenia [7], the 1.52% GDP budgeted for research explains the highest success rate (33%) of CEEC proposals for FP5 - an example that should be followed.

The MEC strategy for reaching the above-mentioned EC objectives is far from clear. Since the poorly developed private sector cannot play a significant role in this case, the real ERA enlargement may well be the last chance for high quality R&D in Romania. Nevertheless, the influence of the current environment at the workplace will remain the same. It could be compared with other important European progress factors as losing their efficiency under the 'transition'-period conditions:

EUROPEAN PROGRESS FACTOR
QUALITY
TRANSITION MANAGEMENT
ACTUAL RESULTS
Natural resources
Huge
Irrational exploit
4PI Dispersion
No EU progress
Environmental damage
Market
Large
Low life-level
Low EU economy progress
R&D(Human resources)
High quality
Low cost
Lacking work conditions
No ERA effectiveness

 

5. Extended ERA vs brain drain

After the 29 October 2002 endorsement of an FP6 association agreement, by the candidate country research ministers and by the EU Research Commissioner, Mr. Philippe Busquin, the EU President Romano Prodi asked the candidate countries to do everything they can to meet the 3% research spending target and to prevent the brain drain from Europe to the US. The recognition of the scientific potential of candidate countries has been related by postulating [8] that research is "the first area where enlargement becomes a reality, well in advance of the accession schedule".

While research is considered to bias the society progress [9], the new educated generation is most important for the knowledge base of society. The salaries, infrastructure and prestige found in US R&D institutions make it difficult for any country, from Japan to Canada and EU, to retain their own skilled young people and research staff. However, beyond this global view of the brain drain, particular reasons apply to post-communist countries. The earlier class struggle has turned against any kind of values, including the intellectual one. Next, the changes at the beginning of 1990's are well known for the economical-power transfer to people controlling the society also before 1990. Thus the value crisis has extended, so that department heads without proper qualifications (e.g. in R&D without completion of the PhD - the first stage proving the capacity of independent research work) continue to be appointed, as well as a questionable management decisions, which quite literally force the young generation consider R&D careers abroad. Only a new technocratic leadership and a proper consideration of their work could make young scientists return to Romania to pursue a scientific career.

6. Concluding remarks

  • Making science in post-communist Romania, even within the context of a successful ERA enlargement, is possible only if a suitable R&D framework will be provided at the national level.
  • A new technocratic leadership and a proper consideration of R&D work are the only way to accomplish the above. The worst economic circumstances may not explain the disregard of R&D necessities, for a real performance.
  • Otherwise our position on the European internal market for knowledge and science - which is becoming ERA - and the overall progress of the Romanian society are likely to remain quite low.

One may discuss about making science in post-communist Romania as long as the above two points are completed, or find the third one as the latest 'achievement' obtained at the price of 'only' 88 million Euro, which is Romania's contribution to FP6, paid for the European integration of our post-communist autocracy.

Notes:

1. L. Giosan and T.I. Oprea, Ad Astra 1(2) 2002; http://www.ad-astra.ro/journal/2/editorial_en.pdf
2. P. Swiatek, State of the Art Questionnaire, KOWI, Bonn, 2001; http://www.kowi.de/moel/questionnaire
3. V. Avrigeanu, Workshop - The Integration in the European Research Area, October 25-26, 2002, New Europe College (Ad Astra and KOWI), Bucharest, Romania; http://www.kowi.de/international/, http://www.ad-astra.ro/events/3/; Ref.1.
4. "Inter-Disciplinary Research and Applications based on Nuclear and Atomic Physics", IFIN-HH, 2001-2003 (EC/FP5/INCO2 call ICFP599A1AM03/15.05.1999); http://idranap.nipne.ro/
5. Active JRC support for EU enlargement, http://www.jrc.eu.int/enlargement/jrc-off .
6. Gunter Verheugen, First Meeting of Member State and Candidate Country Research Ministers, Brussels, July 12, 2001, CORDIS Focus No. 178, 30 July 2001, p. 4.
7. 'Slovenia FP5 proposal success rate the highest among CEECs', CORDIS Focus 205, 23 Sept.2002, p. 10.
8. 'Candidate countries sign FP6 association agreement', CORDIS Focus No. 208, 4 Nov. 2002, p. 3.
9. Romano Prodi, European Parliament, January 16, 2002, CORDIS Focus No. 189, 28 January 2002, p. 1.

Ad Astra • Volume 2, Issue 1, 2003 • Viewpoint
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