News archive - Interview with Prof. Vlado Matevski: “It is not sufficient to adopt good laws and other measures if they are not implemented in practice.”

*Interview with Mr. Vlado Matevski, Professor at the Faculty of Natural Sciences, University "Ss. Cyril and Methodius" in Skopje and Vice President of the Academy of Sciences and Arts since 2009, responsible for scientific research and project activities of the Academy. This Interview was conducted by on the occasion of the 2nd Joint Science Conference of the Western Balkans Process which was hosted by the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Vienna on May 22-24, 2016.

Prof. Matevski, thank you very much for taking the time to speak with us today. Let us start with some first impressions. As you know, the importance of education, research, and innovation for the overall success of the EU-integration efforts of the Western Balkans has been often on the agenda of different RTI stakeholders and policy makers in recent years. It was again confirmed during the 1st Joint Science Conference held on July 15-17, 2015 in Halle and Berlin, and during the second Summit Meeting on the Western Balkans held in Vienna on August 27, 2015 – both events in the framework of the Western Balkans Process. The 2nd Joint Science Conference of the Western Balkans Process has just ended. In few words – how would you describe your first impression?

To begin, I would like to thank you for the invitation to this interview immediately after the end of the 2nd Joint Science Conference. It is a very important event to support further development of science in Western Balkans countries. It was held in Vienna for the past two days and organised by the Austrian Academy of Sciences and the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina. I would like to extend my gratitude and congratulations on the successful organisation to the Austrian Academy of Sciences and its President Anton Zeilinger along with the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina and its President, Jörg Hacker, who has been entrusted with the implementation of this initiative launched by Chancellor Merkel. Encouraging and optimistic are the words which best describe my first impression.

In recent years, Western Balkan countries have made some important efforts to overcome the negative consequences of the economic and political transition and its impact on the region’s research and innovation sectors: They adopted a variety of strategies, laws, and programs to improve the performance of the sector on the national level. What we often hear is that not adopting but implementing RTI strategies and programs on national and regional level is quite challenging for different reasons. Can you tell us something about the results of the 2nd Joint Science Conference and how satisfied you are with the results and recommendations prepared?

Perhaps the most significant outcome of this conference is that all participants from the different countries of the Western Balkans have shown constructiveness in bringing up problems and proposing solutions. The conference took place in a very respectful, almost consensual atmosphere during the discussions about most of the presented problems and ways to resolve them. All participants have shown great concern and dedication in bringing about the various challenges but without any political burden, which can often be irrational at such conferences. At this moment, we cannot talk about the final results of this conference, but we can hope that the proposed recommendations will lead to solutions to at least some of the discussed issues. For example, institutional changes in the science system, achieving international standards in science, and especially proposals and measures to be taken for young researchers to find their place in the scientific and educational system in Western Balkans countries, in order to reduce their mass departure abroad (brain drain). Those measures should not hamper the mobility of young researchers but should contribute against making it a one-direction process.

From your point of view, what is the most relevant development when it comes to research and innovation policy in your country? What are the bottlenecks?

The Republic of Macedonia, in its medium-term program orientation in terms of its further development particularly in the field of higher education and science, should rely on one of the most important policies of the European Union as an area of ​​research, knowledge and development, contained in its strategy Europe 2020 Flagship Initiative Innovation Union. Joining these initiatives opens a vast area for Macedonian higher education institutions for development and expansion of their activities in a number of areas of research, specialist and innovative, entrepreneurial and applied knowledge. In line with that, a national policy should be created and adapted to the domestic legislation. But, it is not always sufficient to adopt good laws and other measures if they are not implemented in practice.

Can you please tell us something about the most relevant achievements within the Academy of Sciences related to the mentioned topics? What are the challenges the Academy is currently facing?

The Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts (MASA), as the highest scientific institution of special interest in the Republic of Macedonia, exercises its legal obligations in a situation of a general economic crisis, with very limited resources, with which an ambitious research program could not be achieved. Within the Academy, there are 8 research centres with a small number of research staff, whose increase is constantly limited by administrative obstacles (such as, above all, approvals from the Ministry of Finance, which are very restrictive), as well as limited financial resources, insufficient research equipment, etc. Some of the centres of the Academy have a longer tradition. Thus, for more than 30 years, the Research Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology has been a reference centre for thalassemia and hemoglobinopathies, which is in line with the latest global advances in molecular diagnosis of rare diseases, using new sequencing techniques to determine the molecular basis of cancer and so on. The Research Centre for Energy and Sustainable Development is guided in its work by the criteria of the World Interacademy Council relating to centres of excellence. These centres not only have an important background in scientific activity, but also the other research centres, some of which were formed in the past few years, have ambitious programs but face the already mentioned problems. MASA, through its 6 Departments and 8 Research Centres, implements a number of projects from different European programs (IPA, INTERREG, FP7, etc.), which provide significant contributions to various scientific fields that include members of the Academy, young researchers employed at the centres, and a number of associates of the Academy. The further development of scientific research is especially negatively influenced by the small number of researchers and their uneven distribution by sector. In such conditions, the fundamental research that requires greater investments could not be developed.

When speaking about the RTI cooperation on a national and regional level in the Western Balkans, it can be said that a lot has been done in recent years, but there is still room for improvement. For example, Western Balkan countries improved the regional cooperation in R&D by committing themselves to the “Western Balkans Regional R&D Strategy for Innovation,” the Smart Growth pillar of the “South East European 2020 Strategy” (SEE 2020), the activities related to the Western Balkans Process and Joint Science Conferences, or the Steering Platform on Research for Western Balkan countries. Can you please tell us something about recent developments related to the cooperation between the Academy and other relevant national stakeholders (such as HE institutions, relevant Ministries, etc.)? Are there obstacles to cooperation on national level?

The cooperation of the Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts with the Institutes, Faculties, and Universities in the Republic of Macedonia is realized through the participation of researchers from these institutions, which are involved in projects in various fields that are implemented in the Academy. In 2014, memorandums of cooperation were signed, first with the oldest and best ranked university in the Republic of Macedonia, "Ss. Cyril and Methodius" in Skopje, then with other universities. That activity continues with other universities in the Republic of Macedonia. These memoranda formalize and facilitate the participation of professors, assistants, and other researchers in projects that are realized through the Academy. At its meetings, the Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts repeatedly emphasizes its advisory function, which, among other things, comes from its legal obligation and role in society - taking care of improving the condition of sciences and arts, and in that regard, taking care of its relations with all stakeholders in society (relevant ministries and institutions). The Academy actively participates in developing the program for development of higher education and scientific research, organises conferences that address issues related to education and science, as well as other sectoral documents. There are not many specific obstacles that the academy is facing, with exception to financial concerns, like many of the scientific and educational institutions in the Republic of Macedonia. These financial problems affect the implementation of the annual program, in particular, the funding of research projects from the budget. Consequently, the funding for publishing activities, which is of utmost importance for the scientific activity of the academy, is also affected.

Are there some activities that are jointly organised or attended by the Academy and other Academies from the region (such as the recently organised 7th Danube Academies Conference in Ljubljana from May 2016)? Do you see any obstacles for the cooperation on a regional level?

In recent years, the Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts has undertaken a number of activities in cooperation with the neighbouring academies and those in the region. Along with the Albanian Academy of Sciences, the joint regional conference: The System "Prespa Lakes - Ohrid Lake:" The Actual State - Problems and Perspective, Struga-Pogradec (27-29.10.2013) was organized. Along with the Biological Institute "Jovan Hadzi” of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts the 35th Meeting of the Eastern Alpine-Dinaric Society of Vegetation Ecology (Ohrid, July 3-6, 2013) was organised. MASA has recently begun an intensified cooperation with the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, which resulted in signing an agreement on cooperation of 33 joint projects in various fields of science and culture, which are under implementation. As of this year, the implementation of 13 joint projects with the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts started and we are set to define joint projects with the Kosovo Academy of Sciences and Arts. As you can see, when it comes to scientific cooperation, indeed there are no obstacles, so that cooperation should be extended to other academies in the region. And not to mention that the Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts currently chairs the Interacademy Council of Southeastern Europe, an association in which mainly the academies of the so called Western Balkans actively participate and which is expected in the future to actively undertake work on joint projects that will stimulate further cooperation.

When speaking about the improvement of science systems in the region in general, what is in your opinion the most important step to take…: 

  • …for policy stakeholders when trying to improve the regional RTI cooperation?

A broad support from stakeholders is needed here to support the processes in improving the scientific system and innovative technologies. In the area of ​​personal autonomy, state higher education institutions have relatively greater freedom of selection of academic, scientific, and other personnel, but only after a prior approval by the Ministry of Finance, which leads a restrictive policy. This is explained with the need for reducing the number of public administrations, which is a reflection of the treatment of education and science not as a creative activity, but as a form of consumption. The policy of technological and innovation development today in our country is more associated to economic rather than scientific policy. It shows the arrangement of the formal competences in the field of innovation, which fall mainly within the scope of the Ministry of Economy. The Ministry of Education and Science outside its structure has a Department for Science, Technical, and Technological Development, but it is quite undeveloped and there are few resources to support innovation activities.

  • …for universities, when trying to implement necessary changes towards improved cooperation with industry?

Universities will have to adjust part of their curricula to the needs of the industry and business sectors. We are a small country with small industrial capacities. Therefore, there is a weak orientation towards innovation and research and poor research and innovative infrastructure in the business sector. According to some available data, the participation of the business sector in the allocations for research and development in the Republic of Macedonia is between 15-23%, with a tendency to stagnate, compared with the European Union, in which the business sector participates in the allocations for research and development between 55% and 65%.

  • Any advice for young researchers?

To believe in what they do and be very persistent, as the results of scientific research do not come immediately, so they must patiently and gradually reach their status in the scientific system. This requires great efforts and sacrifices, but there is nothing more challenging than the top scientific achievements in the scientific areas they will choose. Today, we live in an era of globalization, so that if they decide to continue their scientific career in developed countries, they must never forget their roots and to always be prepared to return back home, because for small countries, each individual who reached high achievements in science is valuable.

The participants of the Western Balkans Vienna Summit 2015 clearly recognized that improving the perspective of young generations is of “paramount importance in ensuring stability, sustainable development, and progress of the region”. Can you please indicate a few concrete examples how the Academy itself is contributing to improve the perspective of younger generations in your country?

In circumstances where, at a national level, there are almost no funds that would enable the inclusion of young researchers in scientific and research projects, the Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts, with the projects financed by the funds available, includes many young researchers outside the Academy, from the universities in the Republic of Macedonia. These are included in the scope of the joint projects with the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences and the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts. In the newly established Research Centre for Computer Science and Information Technology at the Academy, headed by one of the most cited Macedonian scientists, Academician Ljupco Kocarev, have so far implemented many projects of the programs FP6, FP7, and Horizon 2020, involving around 15 young researchers. In 2014 and 2015, several young researchers have been employed at the scientific research centres in MASA (Research Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology) (5); the Centre for Cultural Heritage (2); Research Centre for Environment and Materials (2).

The participants of the WB Summit also welcomed "the proposal to make civil society an additional important element of the Berlin Process". Can you give us some examples of cooperation between the Academy and civil society actors in your country? 

At the Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts, meetings are constantly held and organized by civic associations on various topics of importance to society. One of those meetings that was organized earlier this year referred to the outflow of young brains from the Republic of Macedonia, titled “Current Challenges to the Process of Emigration of Highly Educated Young People from the Republic of Macedonia.” This event was organized by the civic association CEI (Centre for European Initiatives), an organization of young people whose mission is to promote European values ​​by encouraging citizens, especially the youth, to contribute to the advancement of the civil society, democracy, rule of law, and human rights.

All countries from the region are also associated to Horizon 2020; at first, the preliminary results show some success stories, however the overall participation rate is still quite low. In your opinion, what is the most important thing that needs to be done on the national level to improve the participation and success rate in Horizon 2020?

Horizon 2020 offers many opportunities for researchers from the Republic of Macedonia to apply for EU projects, so that researchers from the Republic of Macedonia who have established partnership relations with colleagues and institutions from Europe are already using this opportunity. But, my impression is that it is insufficient and a lot of preparations are required to achieve better results and to involve higher number of researchers as applicants to this programme. In order to achieve this, systemic reforms and strengthening of institutional and individual capacities are necessary. Some concrete suggestions for improving the situation in Republic of Macedonia related to Horizon 2020 include:

  • Expanding the cooperation of universities from the Republic of Macedonia with universities from the EU countries.
  • Building capacity to coordinate and administer European projects within scientific and educational institutions.
  • Capacity building for financial management of projects.
  • Establishing a separate Section within the Department of Science at the Ministry of Education and Science which will be trained and prepared to offer administrative support in preparing project proposals within Horizon 2020 programme. At first, many researchers give up on the application in these types of projects because of the complicated administrative procedure.
  • The establishment of simultaneous priority programmes for employment of young talented researchers and opening of new laboratories, where new and modern methodologies will be established.
  • Involvement of highly specialized personnel from the diaspora in doctoral and postdoctoral studies. Knowledge transfer should represent one of the most important engagements of researchers from the diaspora, despite their physical return.
  • Providing free access for researchers to international journals and reference databases (Web of Science, Scopus, etc.).
  • Financial support to scientific journals to improve their quality.
  • Financial support to young researchers to present their results at international meetings.


Prof. Matevski, thank you very much for this interview!

*This interview was conducted by Ines Marinkovic, project coordinator.

Geographical focus
  • Republic of North Macedonia
Scientifc field / Thematic focus
  • Cross-thematic/Interdisciplinary

Entry created by Ines Marinkovic on July 14, 2016
Modified on July 14, 2016