Financing Czech Science: Will the Czech Academy of Sciences Receive Less Money?

By Sedlak, Lubomir | The New Presence: The Prague Journal of Central European Affairs, Autumn 2009 | Go to article overview

Financing Czech Science: Will the Czech Academy of Sciences Receive Less Money?


Sedlak, Lubomir, The New Presence: The Prague Journal of Central European Affairs


People in the Czech Republic have become accustomed to the fact that even white-collar workers (for instance teachers) sometimes participate in demonstrations in their country; but this year they watched as researchers, in particular those from the Academy of Sciences (AV CR), took to the streets--most recently on 6 October on Prague's Jana Palacha square. The reason behind the protests was a June proposal by the government's advisory body called the Council for Research, Development and Innovations. The proposal suggested that the Academy receive approximately 50 percent less money from the state by 2012.

THE ACADEMY VERSUS UNIVERSITIES

"What we object to, among other things, is that while our subsidies will gradually fall in the next three years to merely half of what they are now, funds for research at universities will stay more or less the same," said Professor Jiri Chyla, member of AV CR's Academic Council and a scientist at its Institute of Physics, to The New Presence. "As far as research goes, to say that universities produce more results is deceptive because if nothing else, we simply employ fewer workers than they do," he added.

At least one person who disagrees with such a claim is, however, Vladimir Haasz, vice-chairman of the aforementioned government council and deputy head of the Department of Measurement at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering of the Czech Technical University (CVUT). "In the past five years, universities in this country have simply achieved, at the same cost, better research results than the academy, which has turned out to be less dynamic," he believes.

Perhaps the reader wonders whether it is possible to define success, as far as scientific research goes, in the first place. Well, the real yardstick, especially in so-called basic research, is found in the number of articles published in various publications, primarily foreign journals such as Nature or The New Scientist, which have a multinational character and are highly influential. To a certain extent, it also matters how many articles local researchers have published in their own country's periodicals, as well as in, for example, global databases or various books of academic character.

Professor Haasz notes that when all these categories were taken into account in data from 2003-2008, the results conveyed that universities had fared better than the Academy, and not only in the number of research results, but also according to a point rating system based on qualitative achievements of Czech scientists.

THE LINE BETWEEN SCIENCE AND EDUCATION

According to Jiri Chyla, the thing is that institutes within the Academy of Sciences do not share the same conditions as universities. "The latter cover a substantial part of their research costs with money they receive from the state for other purposes, namely education, something we naturally cannot do," he points out. He identifies Prague's Charles University as an example: "In 2007, such finances accounted for a full third of the institution's total revenues, while the share of those earmarked for research only slightly exceeded ten percent, or in other words, they were approximately three times lower."

Professor Haasz once again considers information of this kind to be misleading. "Such a situation was true ten or at the latest five years ago, but the state subsidies that universities receive to finance pedagogy have since then been gradually falling, and at my faculty, for example, they more or less equal the amount which is to be spent on research," he says.

The fact is that the line between science and education, whether at universities or even to a small extent at the Academy, is not a clear one. "Our Institute of Plasma Physics, for instance, received a device called a tokamak from Britain in order to research thermonuclear fusion; the devise is, however, also visited by students," notes Chyla.

FINANCING RESEARCH

But let us now return to how research is financed at Czech universities: according to the professor, they even use the money designated for teaching purposes to cover everyday building expenses, such as lighting and heating the lecture rooms, but his colleague at CVUT again disagrees. …

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