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Research financing in Eastern and Central Europe after 25 years since the communism ended

Research financing in Eastern and Central Europe after 25 years since the communism ended

Publish date: 2015-01-22

After 25 years since the fall of the Berlin wall, Nature has published a comprehensive report summarizing how the way of research financing in the Eastern and Central Europe has changed during all these years. It also depicts revision in attitude towards science that is really critical for further development of this region.

Tags: europe , communism , financing , research

In Central Europe, for many years the political system of Communism has imposed what can be produced and what can be sold creating strong limitations for the autonomous business initiatives and creative minds. In the same way, the scientific environment was not able to spread its wings and present its real potential.

Today, 25 years since the communism collapsed the freedom of doing science is quiet obvious. The revolutionary and rapid changes that took place in 1989 triggered the development of democratic countries and put an end to the isolation of Central Europe. Scientists unanimously claim that the fall of the Iron Curtain was a necessity for the development of real research initiatives on the highest level.

Nevertheless, an early beginning of democratic era was very challenging for the whole research community in the Central Europe. The major problem was that the institutes and academies  were far behind their Western counterparts in terms of financing and organization and were not competitive. In fact, lack of money and poor research conditions have forced many scientist to abandon their homeland or at least the academic sector.

Nowadays, the situation of researchers working in Central Europe is significantly better due to several major factors. One of the most important is undoubtedly a membership of the European Union (EU). Eight former communist countries including Poland and Estonia joined EU in 2004. In the next years, Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia also became the members. The funding provided by EU was indispensable for the development of science and innovation. The important thing is that not all countries have followed the same path and some of them became the leaders in the region just to mention Poland, Hungary and Estonia, whereas some of them left behind.

Poland, as a country with the biggest population in the region, has utilized a huge money received from EU to repair the economy and invest in science. However, overall spending on this area is still very small in comparison with Western Europe, as it is less than 1% of the gross domestic product (GDP). Similar low expenditures on science are also encountered in Lithuania, Slovakia and Latvia. Despite being underfunded, Poland is a leader in the number of published articles having about 30,000 of them in Elsevier’s citation database.

Concerning Estonia, its small population of about 1.3 million people actually facilitated the shift from communism to democracy. Moreover, thanks to wise decisions of the Estonian authorities the country was able to overcome the obstacles associated with transformation quiet successfully. Nowadays, biotechnology sector is one of the priorities of the government. Importantly, a constant increase in research funding starting from 0.72% of the GDP in 2002 to 2.18% in 2012 can be observed, and if continued, it will result in further science development in this country.

In case of Hungary, the situation is a little bit different. It appears that the scientific enthusiasm associated with the end of communism era and the start of intellectual freedom was not so strong as in other countries. Importantly, Hungary has spent only 8.5% of 2007-13 EU funding on research, whereas in case of Estonia and Poland it was 20% and 14% respectively. Nonetheless, Hungary remains one of the scientific leaders in the region.

After 25 years since the communism collapsed it is now clearly visible that despite numerous similarities between Central European countries, they have chosen different ways of development and now they are in distinct economic situations with leaders and followers among them regarding scientific area. However, such issues as drain of young talented scientists and still low science expenditures remain the major common challenges that need to be faced by Central European countries.


Maciej Smolarz


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