Scientists up in arms over government’s funding reform

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Czech scientists are up in arms over the government’s plan to reform the system of science and research. The cabinet is planning to introduce new ways of evaluating the results of the individual scientific institutions, and allocate funds according to them. But scientists themselves say the new system is poorly designed, and warn that it might destabilize Czech science as such. Radio Prague spoke to Professor Jiří Drahoš is the head of the Czech Academy of Sciences about what he thought was wrong with the reform of RnD, or research and development.

Jiří Drahoš, photo: CTK
“The reform of RnD, as it was planned, was created at a time when the prediction was that every year, the RnD budget would be increased by some two billion crowns. So this is in fact one of my biggest criticisms; now, with the crisis, we stopped increasing the budget, and the government’s advisory board acts as if the situation was the same as three years ago, with all the positive prospects.”

But I understand that the amount of money in the system should not decrease substantially; it’s just that it should be allocated under a different principle. A new agency should be established that is set to get some of the funds allocated to you. Is this correct?

“Yes it is, but first of all, we cannot really talk about the fact that funds will not decrease. They in fact will because of co-financing of EU programmes. That’s quite a lot of money, about 3.6 billion crowns in total. This fact suddenly appeared during budget preparations, and nobody at the universities or in the academy took it into account. We did not have this information. The second problem is that the rest of the funds should be distributed according to the very unwise and bad methodology for evaluation of RnD performances. The governmental advisory board set up a committee which came up with a very simplistic and very, I would say very original – original in the Czech way – approach of evaluating RnD performances in all branches of science, from maths to archaeology, and convert the results into one number. And this number would be then converted into the money. That’s a totally unwise and – if you excuse me – stupid idea.”

What are you planning to do if the government does not listen to your arguments?

“Frankly speaking, I still hope that I’ll be able to convince the government. They made the decision the day before yesterday. I know from the prime minister and the finance minister that there will be further negotiations. We also have to take into account that the final budget will be approved in the fall by the new parliament and new government, so I still hope that we’ll be able to convince them.”

Would you engage in some kind of public protests? There were some rumours that scientists could even take to the streets.

“I realize this is a very interesting subject for the media but I have to say that I cannot rule it out. I never took part in rallies, except in 1989 and in the Velvet Revolution and some events related to that, and I think we should able to solve the problems though negotiation. But I cannot rule out even this form of protest in the fall of this year.”