Science funding bill met with sharp criticism

Ljubljana, 1 December - A long-awaited bill reforming the funding of scientific research has been met with sharp criticism by research institutions and universities. Despite a promised increase of funding, stakeholders have pinpointed many problematic areas.

The bill on research and development, which determines how state funds for scientific research are disbursed, was unveiled by the Ministry of Education, Science and Sport at the end of October and stakeholders had until the end of November to submit their remarks.

It projects an increase in funding for research and development, from the current level of about 0.4% of GDP to 0.7% in five years and 1% in ten years.

Major changes include financing by institution rather than by research group, special bonuses for researchers if non-budgetary funds are available, and the formation of an R&D council as a government advisory body.

The appointment of directors is also slated for an overhaul: under the current bill the government merely clears directors appointed by individual institutions' boards, now directors would be appointed directly by the government at the proposal of the boards.

Institutions affected by the legislation, in particular leading research institutions and universities, have criticised the bill overall and the new funding structure in particular.

The directors of the National Institute of Biology, Chemistry Institute and the Jožef Stefan Institute (JSI), and the chancellors of the University of Ljubljana and University of Primorsko said earlier this week that the bill lacked an overarching concept and did not address the key issues in science.

JSI director Jadran Lenarčič, speaking on behalf of the institutions, described the bill as "empty honeycomb" that contained too much residue of old bills and too many mistakes.

He said the shift to institution-based financing could have "a devastating impact on the quality and international competitiveness of research and development."

As for appointments, Lenarčič opines the government was seeking to subjugate research organisations to the state with the proposed changes to appointments of directors.

Similar criticism has been voiced by the Scientific Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts. Its director Oto Luthar has called it "unacceptable".

The research institutions have called on the government to retract the bill and return the text to working group level to hash out new solutions.

The National Research Agency, which is in charge of disbursing public funds for science, has refrained from supporting or rejecting the bill.

Instead, it has put forward 16 proposals for changing the legislation, arguing that the bill can still be corrected to address the key outstanding issues.