EU supports science reform in Ukraine

A report on independent audit of Ukraine’s research and innovation system was presented in Kyiv two years ago. The audit, requested by the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine, was performed by European experts using instruments of political support provided by Horizon 2020 program. The report contained 30 recommendations for the Ukrainian government and scientific community. Today, it seems prudent to recall these recommendations and make a brief analysis of what has been done over the past 24 months to fulfill these recommendations and what still needs to be done in the nearest future.

Recommendation 1: The National Council for Development of Science and Technologies must take strategic efforts to reform and reorient the system of science and technologies in Ukraine on the basis of priorities jointly defined by all stakeholders, including the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine, the future National Research Foundation and the National Academy of Sciences

The government resolution of 5 April 2017 has established the National Council of Ukraine for Development of Science and Technologies. Based on a complex contest procedure, the Identification Committee (with 6 out of the Committee’s 9 members being Western scientists of high caliber) named 24 members of the National Council’s Scientific Committee.

In late 2017, the Scientific Committee went operational. Two full meetings of the National Council were held during 2018. A fierce, but overall constructive discussion that took place at the second of these meetings proved that this body is capable of handling the task set out for it in the revised version of the Research and Development Law passed in 2015 and which the aforementioned recommendation actually concerns.

The Cabinet directive of 17 October 2018 approved the action plan on reforming Ukrainian science. This plan sets out far-reaching objectives that must be achieved during 2019 and beyond with participation of all stakeholders mentioned in Recommendation 1. These objectives include, in particular, revising the list of priority areas of scientific and technical development and their implementation mechanism; improving the system of national academies of sciences; encouraging talented young scientists to return to Ukraine; improving regulatory framework to ensure efficient participation of Ukrainian scientists in implementation of international projects, research and innovation programs; creating favorable conditions for participation of Ukrainian scientists and businesses in international cooperation in the sphere of science, technologies and innovations (STI).

Recommendation 2: The National Research Foundation must become a powerful driver of changes and an institution promoting reforms in the system of science, technologies and innovations of Ukraine, in particular, by gradually and substantially increasing contest-based financing of research projects

The National Research Foundation of Ukraine was established per government resolution of 4 July 2018. To make the Foundation operational in 2019, the State Budget allocates over UAH 262 million for that purpose.

This aspect requires special attention. Two years ago, European experts, being well aware of Ukrainian realities and not believing that the Foundation will be able to accumulate substantial additional budget funding, recommended to redirect a portion of expenditures allocated for university and academic science to support the Foundation. It was perhaps the only provision of the Report to be strongly criticized by the overwhelming majority of our scientific community. But despite the well-known difficulties in the budgeting process for 2019, the government was able to find additional funding for the Foundation, without slashing the financing allocated to the National Academy of Sciences or the Ministry of Education and Science. The amount of funding wasn’t that big, but it still was more than 10 times higher than the amount provided to support the State Fund of Fundamental Research (it is going to be merged with the National Research Foundation after registration of the latter as a legal entity).

Recommendation 3: To guarantee greater accountability and transparency, the National Research Foundation must be controlled by international organizations and receive assistance from them

As we know, to ensure that the National Research Foundation (NRF) remains impartial and distanced from other institutions, it was subordinated directly to the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine. The membership of NRF Scientific Council was formed by the Scientific Committee on the basis of a meticulous competitive selection procedure, and approved by the National Council of Ukraine for Development of Science and Technologies in late November. This management body of the Foundation is set to become operational at the beginning of 2019. According to Ukrainian law, NRF may engage international experts and receive funding from foreign donors — and would most definitely try to explore this opportunity to the fullest.

Recommendation 4: A system of expert evaluation of projects must be in place to support the implementation of advanced experience and quality and to internationalize Ukrainian science

These provisions are going to be implemented in NRF documents to be developed by the Foundation’s Scientific Council. International expertise will also be used (and perhaps is already used) by the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine and the National Academy of Sciences.

Recommendation 5: Research universities must be designated in five years on the basis of further evaluation by applying transparent international standards

The Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine has developed a certification procedure for higher education institutions and a mechanism of providing base financing on the basis of certification. The government has adopted the relevant resolution on 22 August 2018. The state budget for 2019 allocates, for the first time, UAH 100 million in base financing to the research conducted by leading universities certified at the highest level.

This step, along with the launch of NRF, will become truly revolutionary for our science in 2019: in terms of institutional capacity, university science will really become at par, for the first time, with science at research and development institutions. Since the national system of science is a single whole organism, everybody will benefit from it: universities, establishing themselves as important research sites, and academic institutes, which will receive worthy partners in the scientific field. As for the status of research university per se, the Ministry of Education and Science is currently working on harmonizing the Higher Education Law passed back in 2014 with the aforementioned recommendation from European experts that envisages the “growing up” of leading universities to the preset high criteria.

Recommendation 6: To prevent the increase of the number of higher education institutions in Ukraine, improve their performance and reach the critical mass, the process of specialization and merger of universities must be launched

This problem is nothing new, and is very hard to solve. For the attempts to close down even an obviously uncompetitive university are inevitably met with resistance, including politicians who begin accusing the Ministry of Education and Science of the intention to deprive a certain region (city, industry) of the future. However, the new principles of financing higher education institutions, currently being developed by the Ministry of Education and Science, will stimulate the enlargement of universities. Hopefully, this mechanism of financial stimulation will be more effective than direct administrative measures.

Recommendation 7: All research organizations of Academies of Sciences and of universities must be empowered to seek third party financing themselves

According to Article 8 of the Research and Development Law, public research institutions fully or partially financed from the state budget may credit their revenues comprised of payments for services their provide in the main area of their activity, charitable assistance and grants (including funding provided by Ukrainian and foreign organizations for implementation of scientific, research & development and innovative projects) to special registration accounts at the branches of the State Treasury Service of Ukraine, or to current and/or deposit accounts at state banks. As for higher education institutions, the aforementioned powers are set out in Article 70 of the Higher Education Law. Unfortunately, it must be admitted that a lot of efforts are still required to ensure that these legislative provisions fully work, especially when research institutions are concerned.

Recommendation 8: The National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine must simplify its existing specialization structure and focus on priority areas

On the eve of the 100th anniversary of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), a discussion was held at various levels to define the Academy’s new priorities. According to the Research and Development Law, this matter belongs to the scope of exclusive competence of NAS itself, so one can only hope that the results of this discussion will finally be reflected in the Academy’s regulatory documents.

Recommendation 9: The National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine should increase the effectiveness of the organization structure of its institutions based on regular independent evaluations

Evaluation of NAS institutions by independent (in particular, foreign) experts was introduced back in 2017 on the basis of evaluation system used by the Leibniz Association (German: Leibniz-Gemeinschaft), Germany. A new UAH 500 million budget program was opened in 2018 to finance institutions and studies deemed of priority importance on the basis of evaluation results. The financing will continue in 2019 as well, with the budget allocation of UAH 518 million.

Recommendation 10: The National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine should designate several avenues for exchange and dissemination of scientific information

It is worth stressing that in recent years, NAS has been actively popularizing science (in particular, at traditional festivals devoted in the Science Day in May), publishing Svitohliad popular science magazine and organizing other events. The Ministry of Education and Science is always ready to provide support to these initiatives that are extremely important for the future of our science.

Recommendation 11: The National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine should diversify its human capital by focusing upon ensuring age and gender balance

The Research and Development Law also places the implementation of this recommendation within the scope of exclusive competence of NAS itself. Members of the NAS Presidium were elected by the General Meeting in April 2015, and include only one woman (the renowned demographist Ella Libanova), while the age of the overwhelming majority of NAS Presidium members is over 70. One can only hope that the recommendation of European experts will be taken into account, at least partially, when electing the new management of NAS in April 2020.

Recommendation 12: The National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine and universities must promote publications in international magazines and reduce the volume of departmental publications

The system of evaluating research findings presently implemented at NAS institutions (and even more so at institutions of the Ministry of Education and Science) stimulates publication of works by Ukrainian scientists in referred publications. The new Procedure of Forming the List of Specialized Publications approved in early 2018 by an order of the Ministry of Education and Science has the same purpose. The result of it is a trend toward the continuously increasing number of articles by Ukrainian scientists in Scopus and Web of Science databases. Unfortunately, the total share of “Ukrainian” articles in these databases remains low because of the generally insufficient financing of science in Ukraine.

It is also worth noting that in 2017, the Ministry of Education and Science provided access, paid for with the state budget funds, to Scopus and Web of Science to a number of universities and research institutions, and increased the number of these prepayments in 2018. In particular, 67 institutions were connected to Scopus last year and 135 this year. Access to Web of Science was provided to 64 institutions last year and to 105 in 2018. One of the key selection criteria was the possibility to provide access to these databases to other organizations. The Ministry of Education and Science’s budget for 2019 includes an allocation of UAH 45 million to prepay for access to these databases to be provided to all Ukrainian scientists who need it — from universities of the Ministry of Education and Science and the Health Ministry, from NAS’s leading institutes and sectoral academies of sciences.

Recommendation 13: Sectoral academies of sciences should be modernized using the model of transforming the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine

New approaches to financing of research and clinical institutions of the National Academy of Medical Sciences of Ukraine are already being implemented today. However, the implementation of this recommendation is hampered by the obvious circumstance: the uncertainty surrounding the model of further transformation of NAS itself.

Recommendation 14: Institutions subordinated to the Ministry of Education and Science and other ministries should undergo an appropriate evaluation and, depending on evaluation results, they should be either restructured or liquidated

The government’s draft action plan for 2019 envisages the launch of the research institution certification procedure, while the required regulatory framework is already in place. Research institutions classified, on the basis of certification, into the 4th (lowest) category will be recommended for reorganization or liquidation within one year. In the future, in accordance with the Research and Development Law, base financing of research institutions will also depend on certification level.

Recommendation 15: Researchers should be stimulated to pursue scientific career by using various methodological instruments, such as salary increase, exchange programs, reward payments

The Ministry of Education and Science is working on this aspect jointly with the Ministry of Social Policy of Ukraine. The actions required for that purpose are set out in the Roadmap of Ukraine’s Integration into the European Research Area approved by the Collegiate Board of the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine on 22 March 2018. It is worth emphasizing that according to this Roadmap, the Ministry has initiated the inclusion to the draft Regulation on the Presidential Fund for Support of Educational and Scientific Initiatives for the Youth of a program supporting Ukrainian “postdocs”, i.e. temporary research positions for young scientists at universities and research institutions of their choice.

Recommendation 16: Administrative oversight of scientific research must become less costly and more effective, and combat red tape, inefficiency and corruption

In its letter (No 1/9-275 of 03.05.2018) to higher education institutions, the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine stressed upon the importance of implementing the European Charter for Researchers and the Researcher Employment Code. The Ministry of Education and Science’s work plan also envisages implementation of a number of mechanisms aimed to simplify administrative procedures. I believe that researchers will be especially positive about the new electronic system for registration of research projects, reports, etc. that will make the tiresome paperwork no longer necessary.

Recommendation 17: The opportunities offered by Horizon 2020 should be used by applying adequate support measures and initiatives

To provide information about the opportunities offered by Horizon 2020 program and consult potential participants from Ukraine, a network of 40 national contact points (NCP) and regional contact points (RCP) was created to address all thematic areas of this program. NCPs constantly organize various events across Ukraine, providing information and consultative support to scientists interested in participating in Horizon 2020 contests. The participation of Ukrainian organizations in Horizon 2020 is being regularly monitored.

A contest was held to select representatives and experts for Horizon 2020’s program committees. Based on the results of this contest, the Cabinet of Ministers has issued the relevant directive on 5 September 2018.

The participation of Ukraine in bilateral international research and development programs and projects attains especial importance in the context of broadened participation in Horizon 2020 by establishing new international scientific collaborations. In 2018, Ukraine has been working with 10 partner countries (Poland, Lithuania, Germany, Austria, France, Moldova, China, Belarus, Latvia, United States) on 97 research and development projects as part of bilateral cooperation in the field of science and technology. Comparing to 2017, the number of research and development projects in the works has increased by 9% thanks to resumption, after an almost ten-year hiatus, of joint Ukrainian-Polish projects.

Recommendation 18: Ukraine should join COST (a voluntary initiative of a broad circle of stakeholders) and encourage more active participation of its STI community in EUREKA

Consultations are already underway as regards Ukraine’s membership in COST, a European program of long-term transnational cooperation of researchers, engineers and scientists. After an almost ten-year hiatus, Ukrainian higher education institutions have resumed participation in the European innovation program EUREKA (as of today, the Ministry of Education and Science co-finances two projects under this program, and the number of these projects is going to increase in the future).

Recommendation 19: Researchers, especially young ones, and middleaged scientists should be guaranteed real opportunities of joining international STI system based on their contribution to scientific progress

A number of special prizes and scholarships — from the President, the Cabinet of Ministers, the Verkhovna Rada – has been established to support young scientists. The Ministry of Education and Science has launched, and for several years has been organizing, a separate contest of draft scientific works and of research and development findings of young scientists. This year, the Cabinet of Ministers has established personal government scholarships for the best young scientists to immortalize the Revolution of Dignity and to honor the feat of the Heroes of Ukraine — Heroes of the Heavenly Hundred. The Fund for Support of Educational and Scientific Initiatives for the Youth was established per decree of the President of Ukraine, and the Ministry of Education and Science is currently working on developing the Fund’s regulation.

The total amount of financial support to research projects and scholarship programs for young scientists within the Ministry of Education and Science’s system has increased 1.5 times during 2018, reaching 0.94% of the total amount of financing provided to science from the state budget’s general fund. In absolute figures, it amounts to UAH 87,744.5 thousand versus UAH 58,221.7 thousand in 2017. The Ministry of Education and Science’s 2019 budget includes UAH 88,370 thousand earmarked for government support to research projects of young scientists, which is more than 13% of the total amount of financing allocated to support university science.

Recommendation 20: Access to national and international scientific infrastructures should be made easier

This year, the Ministry of Education and Science established, as an experiment, eight centers for collective use of scientific equipment at higher education institutions. The first testimonials regarding the performance of these centers were positive, and therefore, the Ministry intends to add another four centers in 2019 to the eight already operational ones.

Thanks to the agreement between Ukraine and the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) as regards Ukraine’s associate membership in CERN, access to nuclear research infrastructure is provided, for the purpose of conducting research jointly with colleagues from other countries, to Ukrainian scientists who need that for the successful completion of their research work. To enable access of Ukrainian scientists to research infrastructure, there is a positive experience in interaction with the Joint Research Center (JRC).

However, one needs to be frank: the problem of creating modern research infrastructure remains extremely acute for Ukrainian science due to years of chronic underfinancing and the fact that advanced research equipment has never been procured in sufficient quantities during almost the entire period of independence. Our neighbors (Poland, Romania, Baltic States) were able to solve the similar problem only thanks to the full access to the EU’s structural funds, something we currently do not have as we aren’t full members of the European Union. However, we constantly tell our European colleagues that special mechanisms enabling such access must be devised for Ukraine.

Recommendation 21: Cooperation with scientific diaspora must be deepened to utilize its potential for the benefit of Ukraine’s STI system

A forum of Ukrainian scientific diaspora called “Developing Science via International Cooperation”, organized by the NAS Ukrainian International Committee of Science and Culture and other Ukrainian and German organizations with the support from NAS and the Ministry of Education and Science, was held on 20-22 October 2018. Leading scientists of the diaspora have already been engaged by various Ukrainian organizations (Identification Committee for Science, expert commissions of various levels, etc.). However, we must admit that we insufficiently utilize the potential of Ukrainian scientific diaspora, and therefore, efforts in this area must be increased.

Recommendation 22: The accession to Horizon 2020 program should be additionally used as a source of key methodological information

The Ministry of Education and Science has always regarded accession to Horizon 2020 not just as a method of bringing additional financing to Ukrainian research system (although the fact that thanks to beneficial terms of participating in this program, our scientists receive much more money from Brussels than we pay them in membership fees is very important). No less important is the fact that participation in Horizon 2020 produces a huge positive impact on our scientific landscape, elevating to prominence those who have already successfully integrated into European and global science. In that sense, Horizon 2020 represents a powerful counterargument to those old-schooled Ukrainian scientists who still (in the fifth year of Russian aggression!) say, in the words of some ill-reputed academician: “I feel at home in Petersburg and Moscow, but don’t know what to do in Brussels or Washington”.

The Ministry expects that when the Ukrainian representatives and experts designated by the aforementioned Cabinet directive will start working on the Horizon 2020 committees, it will help harmonize national policies with the European Research Area’s policy.

Recommendation 23: International cooperation in the STI sector must be conformant with national priorities and strategies

As I mentioned earlier, the Ministry of Education and Science has developed, in cooperation with the academic community, the Roadmap for Ukraine’s Integration into the European Research Area. It is important to stress that this map, approved by the Ministry’s Collegiate Board, became the first document of this kind submitted by an associate member state of Horizon 2020 program. This circumstance was highly praised by our partners in Brussels. Presently, work continues on preparing numerous regulatory documents required for the implementation of the Roadmap. Obviously, it will take years to accomplish, considering that in many sectors, key players include not just the Ministry of Education and Science but also other ministries (Finance Ministry, Economy Ministry, Ministry of Social Policy and others), and that there are still many rudiments of the past that we have to eliminate on the way of implementing the Roadmap.

Recommendation 24: Developing an interagency Research and Innovation Strategy and an Action Plan focused upon priority areas to ensure innovations on the basis of science and technologies

The Ministry of Education and Science has developed, jointly with the academic and business communities, a draft Ukraine Innovative Development Strategy which, after visaing by other ministries, will be submitted to the Cabinet of Ministers. After the government approves the Strategy, a Strategy implementation action plan will be prepared. It will envisage, in particular, adoption of new legislation on support of innovations and transfer of technologies.

Recommendation 25: Ensuring representation of the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade and innovation activists in the National Council for Development of Science and Technologies

The Directive 776-r of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine of 17.10.2018, which approved the action plan on reforming Ukrainian science, envisages, in particular, expansion of functions of the National Council for Development of Science and Technologies onto the sphere of innovations as well. Members of the National Council’s Administrative Committee include Deputy Minister of Economic Development and Trade, deputy heads of state administrations in Kyiv, the Kharkiv and Dnipropetrovsk Oblasts concerned with innovative development, President of Kyiv Polytechnic Institute’s Science Park, and Deputy General Director of Ukroboronprom State Concern.

Recommendation 26: Creating a permanent working group for innovations and a scheme of providing consultations under the auspices of the National Council for Development of Science and Technologies

This working group will be established in early 2019 pursuant to the Cabinet Directive 776-r of 17 October 2018 approving the action plan on reforming Ukrainian science.

Recommendation 27: Instruments of realistic, effective innovation policy should be identified

A list of these instruments based on the best national, European and global practices is set out in the aforementioned draft Ukraine Innovative Development Strategy.

Recommendation 28: Innovation vouchers should be introduced for internationalization and validation of the company’s innovation activity

The implementation of this recommendation will become possible after approval of a revised version of the Law of Ukraine on Innovations that will be prepared on the basis of the Innovative Development Strategy’s provisions.

Recommendation 29: Mobility schemes should be developed at the levels of science and industry

These programs will be prepared as part of the action plans for implementation of the Innovative Development Strategy and the Industrial Development Strategy (this document is being developed by the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade).

Recommendation 30: Support should be provided to cooperation projects of public research organizations and industrial enterprises

The mechanisms of supporting these projects will be stipulated in the new law of Ukraine on transfer of technologies, which the Ministry of Education and Science will prepare this year on the basis of the Innovative Development Strategy’s provisions.

As follows from the foregoing analysis, a lot has already been done in the past two years, and only blatantly biased people could say that this time was wasted for the reform of Ukrainian science. However, we still have a lot of work to do, for the attempts to reform Ukraine’s scientific system have actually started only after the victory of the Revolution of Dignity, and before that, there were two decades plus when our science de-facto remained in a backwater for all governments and presidents without exception.

 

…The thirty expert recommendations are preceded by seven key messages. Of them, the first is especially important: Ukraine’s system of science, technology and innovation requires ambitious reforms aimed to increase its effectiveness and influence. These reforms must be based on the government’s firm resolution to fulfill its commitments regarding increase of financing.

These words were written in 2016, when budget financing of science in Ukraine reached the historical minimum of 0.16% of the country’s GDP. From then on, efforts of the incumbent government helped increase this indicator, slowly but steadily. Financing of science is going to increase in 2019 as well, although it still will be a far cry from what’s really needed in view of the extremely difficult circumstances of the budgeting process, when huge foreign loans and interest on these loans must be paid simultaneously.

Still, recommendations from European experts provided two years ago remain the benchmark that allows both the society and politicians better understand the role of science for the future of Ukraine. Only hopeless optimists can believe that implementation of these recommendations is a simple and easy thing. Experience of the past two years (when a lot has been achieved, after all!) shows that a lot of work is still needs to be done, and it will take years to accomplish. But Ukraine will definitely remain one of the leading scientific countries in Ukraine, and what’s important is not to stray off the chosen European integration path.

 

By Maksym Strikha

Source – ZN.UA

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