News archive - Interview with Prof. Artan Puto: “Capacity building is important for the region; involvement of students and young researchers in projects from the very beginning is recommendable.”

*Interview with Mr. Artan Puto, Professor of Albanian history at Tirana state university, Faculty of archaeology and cultural heritage. 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 and the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina in Vienna on May 22-24, 2016.

Mr. Puto, thank you very much for taking the time to speak with us today. 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?

This is the first time that I participated in the Western Balkans Science conference and for me it was a very good occasion / (better: opportunity) to  learn about the whole process and recent developments.

In recent years, the Western Balkan countries have made also 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 the RTI strategies and programmes on a national and regional level is quite challenging for different reasons. On the agenda of the 2nd Joint Science Conference, we see that one of the topics was related to quality assurance, evaluation, and improved science administration. Can you tell us something about the results of the 2nd Joint Science Conference in this regard and how satisfied you are with the results and recommendations prepared?

I will start with mentioning two different ideas: first – focusing on concrete results in general; second – we should consider this series of conferences as a process, thus should not expect concrete results in the near future. But the most important thing is that we have initiated and have started a process. I think on one hand, maybe the best way to support science is to further enhance regional and international science cooperation. There is no sense in “putting borders into science”. On the other hand, it is still unfortunate that we in the Western Balkan countries are not able to push these things without European assistance. We still need international and European pressure to somehow change things at home. On one hand, it is good, because you have a kind of support – great support – but on the other hand, I express great regret that we are still not able to do it alone.

Related to the topics of the conference, I would like to mention the investment in science. The Balkan countries should increase the percentage of their funding for science by 3 %. We all know that this percentage is much lower, so one task of the conference was to work out means and tools to exert pressure on the governments to increase this financial support for scientific research. And we suggested introducing this goal as a kind of pre-condition, to be obligatorily fulfilled by the Balkan countries during their EU accession process. From my point of view, it should be something obligatory. There should be something that obliges these countries to meet these standards. Otherwise, it would be very difficult to convince the governments.  

Also, capacity building is important. I must confess that, at least in my country, it is very rare to find a combination of researchers and people who are able to attract different funds, people having project management skills, who are able to prepare projects, put them in a proper form, etc. This combination is still a rare phenomenon. So funding is one problem, but another problem is also capacity building.

While waiting for the final conclusions of the conference, the good point, as I saw it, is that we have such a strong international support.  We have, the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina and the Austrian Academy of Sciences behind us, really two prestigious institutions. The French Academy of Sciences will host the next Joint Science Conference in 2017. So from an international point of view, we have really reached a high level of support.

But then what is important, from my point of view, is that this process should be kept alive at all stages. And from one stage to the next, we should be able to provide some concrete results. So moving beyond declarations and setting some goals, but also showing achievements. Of course, some will be modest achievements, but we also need to see some concrete things.

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 most important thing is the introduction of the new law on education. I am not an expert, but to me, one of the most important things this law is dealing with is that it somehow brings about the decentralisation of decision making. This means that in the framework of this new law, it is the department/faculty itself that makes decisions about its own work. This seems to be a positive change, but it is too premature to say something definite because we have to see it. In fact, we are in a transition period because the new law has been put into place in October or November 2015, so now it is called a transitory period until the old structures are assimilated into new ones. This is one thing.

The other thing that we have also discussed during the conference is that we are all aware of this so-called “brain drain.” We spoke about possibilities and efforts to invert this phenomenon. Possibly, in the near future, a discussion can take place about “brain circulation”. At this stage, that may seem like wishful thinking but we should try to turn it into a possible reality somehow. This also means that we should improve the legal framework in our countries in order to make the job market attractive to young people and to motivate those who have studied abroad to come home and give their contribution. For example, in Albania, this problem was dealt with for the second time with the help of the “Soros foundation”. However, this is only temporary support and we cannot speak about the final solution. Grants are available and people are coming back. They have their payments through the grants but this is no sustainable solution. So we discussed what we could do in this regard. The question is what to do to make such programmes more sustainable.

When speaking about the improvement of science systems in the region in general, what is, in your opinion, the most important step to take when it comes to young researchers?

From my point of view, there is a lack of professional schools in my country; also there is a huge amount of students who study law, journalism, or political sciences but the job market is too weak to absorb all those students. It is like becoming a nation of lawyers and journalists but the question is where to find a job for all those people who finish those studies.

All countries from the region are also associated with 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?

One thing could be to involve students in different projects whenever it is possible. Students should exercise their practical skills in the field from the very beginning. When they see they are involved, they take this as a kind of consideration and this could increase their interest. This would increase their contribution as well.

For example, students from our department are involved in projects implemented by the Cultural Heritage without Borders (CHwB), a Swedish non-governmental organisation. They organise summer schools in the region by involving a group of young researchers who are going to restore cultural monuments in Serbia, Kosovo, Albania, etc. This would be a good example and I think that they are doing a good job.

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

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

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

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