[Theme in Focus] Western Balkans Process | Joint Science Conferences. WBC-RTI.info Newsletter July, 2016

2nd Joint Science Conference of the Western Balkans Process: “Moving forward – Guidelines to Improved Science Systems”

On May 22-24, 2016, the 2nd Joint Science Conference of the Western Balkans Process (JSC-WBP) was successfully organised in Vienna. It was co-organised by the Austrian Academy of Sciences and the German National Academy of Sciences, Leopoldina in cooperation with the Austrian Ministry for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs, the Austrian Ministry of Science, Research and Economy, the German Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and the PERFORM-platform (Performing and Responsive Social Sciences; funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation Helvetas).

The advancement of science systems in South East Europe is not only significant for countries of the Western Balkans but also for Europe,” underlines Anton Zeilinger, President of the Austrian Academy of Sciences: “Science is a central instigator for societal and economic development. Given that scientific knowledge and innovative ideas are not confined by national boundaries, high quality research in the Western Balkans also provides opportunities for all European countries.“

 

The participants of the 2nd JSC-WBP – national academies of sciences and arts, rectors’ conferences, distinguished scientists ad personam and junior scientists, invited representatives of international and national organisations and European Commission – discussed current challenges and the possibilities for improving science, research and higher education systems in the Western Balkans (WB) by focusing in particular on three areas of discussion:  

  1. institutional and systemic change,
  2. quality assurance in different areas, and
  3. concrete ideas for implementing positive change.

The Joint Statement, which was recently published and it is now online available, includes five key recommendations that are to be taken into consideration by relevant national, regional and international stakeholders:  

  • Build a social and political culture appreciating the relevance of science for open society and economic development. Involve scientists in policy-making and institutionalise communication by establishing National Science Advisory Councils or similar bodies.
  • Apply international quality criteria to and involve international scientists in evaluation and recruitment.
  • Embrace a welcoming culture for attracting outstanding scholars from the diaspora and international scientific community. Guarantee long-term planning security. Offer mobility measures for brain circulation at all career levels.
  • Create national autonomous research funding institutions and depoliticise the science system.
  • Adopt special instruments within Horizon 2020 for WB6 and EU13 to combat inequalities in the EU and develop one central information hub for EU-funded opportunities.

The Joint Statement and its recommendations were presented to political decision-makers who met at the “Western Balkans Summit” in Paris on July 4, 2016. The Joint Science Conference was mentioned in the final declaration of the Summit:

“The parties welcome the joint science conferences held in Berlin in 2015 and Vienna in 2016. They reiterate their recommendation to allocate sufficient funding to research, with 3% of national GDP as a target and ask the national academies of science to propose, by their next conference to be held in France in 2017, funding mechanisms for excellent young researchers from the Balkans, allowing them to gain experience abroad and to create their own laboratories of excellence.” (Final Declaration by the Chair of the Paris Western Balkans Summit)

Joint Science Conferences of the Western Balkans Process are important events which support further development of science in the region while emphasising mutual understanding and respect between the regional stakeholders.

On the occasion of the 2nd Joint Science Conference, WBC-RTI.info spoke with   three conference participants from the region: Mr. Artan Puto, Professor of Albanian History at Tirana State University, Faculty of Archaeology and Cultural Heritage; Mr. Vlado Matevski, Professor at the Faculty of Natural Sciences, University "Ss. Cyril and Methodius" in Skopje and Vice President of the Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts; and with Prof. Nexhat Daci, former President of the Academy of Sciences of Kosovo*.

They shared with us some first impressions just after the conference and congratulated the Austrian Academy of Sciences and the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina for the excellent organisation of the conference.

Prof. Vlado Matevski: “It is a very important event to support further development of science in Western Balkans countries. (…) Encouraging and optimistic are the words which best describe my first impression.”

Prof. Nexhat Daci: “I think it is an excellent continuation of the Berlin process. (…) It is an important conference for all of our countries because it is organised completely at the scientific level while fostering mutual understanding and respect for each other.”

Prof. Artan Puto: “This is the first time that I participated in the Western Balkans Science conference and for me it was a very good opportunity to learn about the whole process and recent developments.”

Furthermore, we spoke with our interview partners on different topics of relevance for research sectors in their respective countries and the region as a whole. For example, we spoke about national and regional research cooperation, about current activities of the Academies and the challenges they are facing with, about Horizon 2020 and about what needs to be done in order to improve participation and success rates in Horizon 2020. The interviews are published and online available:

From “brain drain” to “brain circulation”

One of the topics that was highlighted by all of our interview partners is related to young researchers and accompanying challenges which the Western Balkan countries are facing– such as “brain drain”, capacity building needs, insufficient funding, unsustainable and/or missing measures/programmes for young researchers or youth mobility etc.  

Over the years, the scholars from the region (either living in WB or abroad) repeatedly emphasized the need for structural measures in this regard and called on governments to further increase their efforts.

    “Developed countries are introducing innovative developments to attract “the best and the brightest” from around the world, while developing countries are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of human capital for their development, and are putting in efforts to retain their most educated citizens within the country’s boundaries. Unfortunately, the countries of the Western Balkans, not surprisingly, behave as if they are not aware of the worldwide race for talent, and put almost no effort into either retaining their highly skilled individuals or attracting the ones from their own diaspora; despite the significant outflow of highly skilled individuals from the region.” (Nermin Oruc) 1

    “To mitigate and reverse this process, the WB countries’ governments should proactively foster the process of brain circulation through the adoption of a regional approach to this issue. This will provide expatriates with the opportunity to transfer their expertise and skills to the country of origin, without necessarily returning home permanently. The WB countries will gain access to the knowledge and expertise of expatriates, and to the knowledge networks that they form in the host countries.” (Bratislav Stankovic)2

Unfortunately, mostly due to financial constraints and limited budgets for research, very little was done so far in the region in this regard. Those highly skilled individuals from Western Balkans are still leaving their home countries in search of a better life somewhere else – if they get a chance.

Therefore, several concrete ideas for implementing positive change in the region related to “brain gain” and “brain circulation” – as specified in the Joint Statement of the 2nd JSC-WBP – are to be highly acknowledged:

(…) “We ask national governments and the EU Commission to develop mobility schemes that attract out-standing national and international scientists as well as specific programmes for the academic diaspora to encourage brain re-gain.” (…)

(…) “Therefore, we request responsible stakeholders in politics and academia to guarantee flow of information notably concerning calls for projects and grants, calls for conference participation, career advancement opportunities, etc. In addition, they must support junior scientists in their pursuit of opportunities institutionally, nationally, regionally and internationally.”

“We urge national ministries and the EU Commission to implement or improve specific funds and programmes for junior researchers from the WB and to support networking and connectivity with industry, private sector, society and decision-makers.”

Having in mind the relevance of the whole Western Balkans Process towards EU-integration and the relevance of the Joint Science Conference of the Western Balkans Process towards ERA-integration of the countries from the region, chances seem good that those ideas and proposals will lead to concrete programmes developed by responsible stakeholders and will be consequently implemented in practice.

1 Oruc, Nermin (2015): “Leave us the worst and dullest!” Balkans in Europe Policy Blog | Joint initiative of the European Fund for the Balkans & Centre for Southeast European Studies at the University of Graz. Online: http://www.suedosteuropa.uni-graz.at/biepag/node/47

2 Stankovic Bratislav (2014): „Innovation and Brain Drain in the Western Balkans“. In: Marinkovic/Dall (2014): “R&D and Innovation in Western Balkans. Moving Towards 2020.” WBC-INCO.NET


A selection of topic related events, news, calls, documents, organisations, links etc. is available here.

 

Document type
  • Newsletter
Language

English

Publication Year

2016

Geographical focus
  • WBC
Scientifc field / Thematic focus
  • Cross-thematic/Interdisciplinary

Entry created by Ines Marinkovic on August 25, 2016
Modified on December 30, 2016