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- 5 December 2013 11:26 am , Vol. 342 , #6163
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Ten-Year Plan Aims to Make Slovenia a Regional Science Leader
11 May 2011 1:32 pm
Slovenia's parliament is expected to approve a 10-year strategy next week to give the country's research and innovation sectors a major facelift. The plan aims to boost government funding for science, attract more scientific talent from abroad, and make the nation of 2 million the science and innovation hub of the western Balkans.
The proposal for the new strategy was accepted by the parliament at the first reading in early March, together with a complementary strategy for higher education. On 5 May, both plans were approved by the parliamentary committee on higher education, science and technology.
The numbers suggest that Slovenia was already making progress in its scientific development. According to last year's UNESCO Science Report, the number of researchers in the country grew by 51%, to about 7000 full-time researchers, between 2002 and 2008; its scientific output rose by 71%, to 2766 papers, in the same period. In terms of papers published per million inhabitants, the country is way ahead of other countries in southeastern Europe.
But the new research plan aims higher. It outlines a grand vision of an open and effective research and innovation system that brings together education, research, and innovation to create a sustainable high-tech society. To help achieve that goal, the government's science budget will be almost doubled to 1% of GDP (€390 million) in 2012 and grow further to 1.2% by 2020. (Total research spending in Slovenia is currently 1.6% of GDP, but only 0.52% comes from state coffers.)
The strategy also aims to turn Slovenia into a desirable destination for the most successful researchers and companies from the western Balkans and to increase the number of foreign researchers working in the country—especially in the natural and technical sciences. Entrepreneurship among scientists will be stimulated by helping young Ph.D.s set up spin-off enterprises, giving tax breaks to companies that invest in R&D, encouraging public-private research collaboration, and cutting red tape.
The strategy will give public research organizations more autonomy but also places them under closer scrutiny: in order to receive public funding, organizations must produce results that clearly make a positive impact on science or the economy. Despite this results-driven approach, the strategy gives basic research free reign, and support and public funding for basic and pioneering research will increase. “Fundamental progress in science can only be achieved through research free of preset priorities and based only on the primal curiosity of researchers,” the document says.
The higher education strategy aims to modernize Slovenia's universities and give them more autonomy; it includes an increase in funding for the entire higher education sector to 2.5% by 2020.
"There is no doubt that Slovenia has ... been behind on investment and in search of more modern and efficient solutions both in science and in technology," says Jadran Lenarčič, who heads the Jožef Stefan Institute, a center for basic and applied science in Ljubljana that employs some 850 scientists. The new research plan makes clear that the country will focus on research as the engine of its economy, Lenarčič says.
Both plans are "good and carefully prepared proposals that will make a positive impact on the development of science and higher education in Slovenia," adds Uros Seljak, a Slovenian physicist working at the University of California, Berkeley.
The window of opportunity for passing the proposals may be closing, because three referenda on major budget reforms, scheduled for early June, are likely to break up the current coalition government and trigger early elections in the fall. One party recently left the ruling coalition, leaving Slovenia with a minority government.
Meanwhile, Gregor Golobič, Slovenia's minister for higher education, science, and technology and the driving force behind the plans, announced his resignation on 22 April. The move was intended to signal that the referenda—which Golobič sees as crucial for the country’s future—and the survival of the coalition are two separate issues. But Golobič won't step down until 4 June, allowing him to see the two strategies through parliament.