Government to re-distribute SAV money (The Slovak Spectator)

 Radovan Ďurana hodnotil 28.7.2016 presun časti rozpočtu SAV na podporu mliekarov pre The Slovak Spectator.

Government to re-distribute SAV money (The Slovak Spectator)

 Money earmarked for scientists may instead go to save the dairy business and satisfy the demands of the striking teachers, according to a government proposal for further cuts to the Academy of Sciences.

The Slovak government decided to cut more than €1 million of the Slovak Academy of Sciences (SAV), a move that is seen as incompatible with its declared efforts to promote a knowledge-based economy.
The Finance Ministry began to cut resources in a number of budget chapters including the already weakly funded SAV budget to enhance teachers' wages and boost state support for milk producers. But scientists perceive the government`s intention as a step against budget stabilisation agreed in deal in 2015 which may move SAV to chapters in so-called special regime.

"The stabilisation agreement should guarantee a constant financing from the state budget for three years," SAV spokesman Stanislav Ščepán told The Slovak Spectator.
The binding process
The Finance Ministry justifies the moves with the argument that the approved budget for 2016 did not count with the new government's actions in milk and education. Based on the intention, the ministry is asking the SAV to prepare a proposal to save funds.
The withdrawal of SAV funds of a total of €1,072,087 becomes a part of a complex binding of public resources in a value of €55.7 million, of which €30 million goes to compensate for low prices of milk and the rest to 6-percent valorisation of wages of university teachers and professional staff from September 2016.

The process affects 35 subjects including all ministries, the President's Office, the Supreme Court, the General Prosecutor's Office, the Slovak Intelligence Service, the Supreme Audit Office and other budget organisations. Particular budget chapters are currently sending their drafts for funds binding, said Finance Ministry's spokeswoman Alexandra Gogová.

Stability concerns
The government's step goes against the Stability Agreement between SAV and the state, which guarantees €60 million for the organisation per year in 2016-2018. SAV head Pavol Šajgalík, Finance Minister Peter Kažimír and former Education Minister Juraj Draxler signed the agreement in early June 2015.

The scientists now see the situation as one that harms the stability of scientific research. In response, SAV authorities, university teachers, rectors and activists launched the Veda chce žiť! (Science wants to live!) initiative.
Miloslav Bahna, co-founder of the initiative, noted that it is not possible to talk about stability if SAV had its annual budget approved and then suddenly in mid-year someone comes and says the budget has changed.
Additionally, the government cuts to the SAV budget wold come despite its commitment from its programme statement pledging to boost the funding of R&D from the state budget.
Radovan Ďurana of the Institute for Economic and Social Studies (INESS) think tank pointed out that all government statements highlight R&D using bold font.
“Money that ends up in the milk business illustrates the fact that the state does not operate on the basis of its pre-established priorities," Ďurana told The Slovak Spectator.

Long-term scarcity
The current budget of SAV is undersized in comparison with other countries, although the institution significantly participates in doctoral education and feels to be a part of third-level education process in Slovakia where the government declares to increase wages, SAV wrote in a statement.
More than 75 percent of the expenditures of SAV departments go to wages and the rest to energy payments, and grants with clear identification which cannot be used for current drop-out, explained Bahna. More cuts in budget in general mean reducing employees or working contracts.
“Uncertainty of young talented people who consider the career of scientist might be the worst possible impact," Bahna said.
SAV must react

Actions by the Finance Ministry may endanger personnel structure of the Slovak R&D base, the Slovak Rectors' Congress stated as quoted by the TASR newswire.
Cuts could also harm the SAV's partnerships in several international projects as the SAV budget does not have any reserves, said Pavol Šajgalík, head of SAV. Another solution is to take scholarships from around 600 doctoral students in SAV.

“However, doctoral students are vital breeding ground for research anywhere in the world," Šajgalík told The Slovak Spectator.
EU member states are involved in the strategy Europe 2020 for approaching knowledge-based economies, of which one objective is to raise R&D expenditures to 3 percent of GDP by 2020. Though Slovakia works with modified target of 1.2 percent of GDP, in 2014 only 0.89 percent of Slovak GDP went to R&D, according to latest figures from Eurostat.

Education rankings
While R&D is tied to tertiary education, a large part of scientific research is carried out at universities. Slovakia is also lagging behind this area in the long run with only one institution, the Comenius University (UK) in Bratislava, among the leading world university rankings.
In 2016, the Center for World University Rankings listed the university at 637th position, while it jumped by 48 positions compared to 2015. In like manner, University Ranking by Academic Performance placed UK in 494th place of 500 listed schools and QS World University Rankings.

Regional QS Emerging Europe and Central Asia Rankings chose in addition to the UK on 42nd position also the Slovak University of Technology in Bratislava (79th) and the Žilina University which entered the published rankings for the first time, breaking into the 141-150 band.

Ways to help science
Slovakia supports R&D through a combination of institutional funding, which ensures stable basic operations, and grant competitions. The government may increase support in that sphere and maintain the current level of institutional funding, said Bahna.

SAV proposes an amendment to legislation that would transform SAV departments to public science institutions. As a first step, foreign experts began to pursue the accreditation process for each department separately, to improve contribution and status of SAV in European research area, said Šajgalík.
“I hope that we will create space for negotiations with the government to get other resources for the research by the best SAV scientists," said Šajgalík.
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Peter Adamovský
The Slovak Spectator, 28.7.2016

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