Science Policy (in Estonia): Preface to the Special Issue of Trames

Article excerpt

Estonian science policy has been actively developed throughout the entire period of regained independence. During that time significant reorganising has taken place in four major areas: restructuring decision-making, reorganising research establishments, reorganising funding and reforming higher education. As a result of such reorganisations Estonian science environment has become more stable, including the scientists and the funding of science.

At the same time science funding is insufficient and fragmentary. Decision-making and dividing money between different fields of science and projects are not always transparent to the public. Various interest groups in science have emerged, e.g. huge public law universities with their institutes on the one hand and state research institutions on the other. In some science policy questions, the opposition rather stands between big universities and institutes regardless of where the latter belong. Hence the interests of universities and their institutes can often be in opposition as well.

The impetus for the current special issue of Trames was the article titled "From parts to whole" by Juri Engelbrecht, president of the Academy of Sciences. It treats the various aspects of research policies based on the recent ALLEA studies "National Strategies of Research in Smaller European Countries". These studies involved both the member and candidate countries. The experience of different countries is analysed and the best practice indicated. The research policy in Estonia is described in greater detail. Juri Engelbrecht finishes his article with ideas leading towards general European research policy--from parts to whole.

The editors introduced this article to various influential persons who shape Estonian science policy. We received plenty of promises to comment on professor Juri Engelbrecht's article and express their own ideas on science policy matters. In the course of putting the special issue together the Estonian science political situation changed dramatically. As a result, several authors who had agreed to

provide their contributions, decided not to express their science policy opinions openly (not even as a scholarly text).

By early 2003, most of the employees dealing with science matters at the ministry of education, now ministry of education and research, had left their job.

Among them was also the head of the policy department responsible for science administration. (In the meantime, the parliamentary elections took place, a new coalition came to power and a new government was formed. The new minister of education and research has started to assemble the ministry's science department, and the new vice-chancellor of science has taken up his job.)

Granted support by a departing high-ranking employee, the rectors of four big public law universities tried to totally discredit the currently operating system of science funding. Breaking several laws of the Republic of Estonia, the target financing plan presented by the Estonian Council of Scientific Competence was changed. The funding of all research topics was cut by 3-4%, and the saved money was allocated to several new areas suggested by the rectors. However, these new and "urgently necessary" topics for the universities had been previously rejected by the Competence Council because of their insufficient scientific level or people concerned.

As this action caused an acute sense of dissatisfaction among the Estonian scientists, the rectors, represented by the council of rectors, hoped to dissolve the Competence Council and start distributing the funds themselves. That type of funding would be disastrous as competitiveness and quality criteria would simply vanish. For the institutes standing outside universities the sort of science policy which entrusts the funding to the university rectors, would also be no less than a catastrophe.

The activities of the council of rectors of the public law universities forced the research institutes outside universities into action as well. …