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Put people where they best fitDiversity benefits society and economy, says JRC chief Šucha
17 Feb 2014 Beata Balogová Politics & Society
Societies will be competing not only for natural resources but also strive to attract the best talent, says Vladimír Šucha, the director general of the Joint Research Centre (JRC), a body tasked with providing scientific and technical advice to the European Commission. He took up the post at the beginning of 2014. Šucha believes that the educational system and the society in general should be tuned to recognise talents and put people in places where they best fit so that “we have the fulfilment of the individual while the society benefits from it too”. The Slovak Spectator spoke to Šucha about his new job, the education system, brain drain and brain circulation as well as the need for diversity in societies.
The Slovak Spectator (TSS): What are the challenges your appointment brings at both professional and personal levels?
TSS: What does your appointment mean for Slovakia?
TSS: What were the main milestones of your advancement into this post?
TSS: You did belong to Slovakia’s science vanguard, but you have also been mentioned as one of the examples of brain-drain. Why have many of the best brains of Slovakia left the country? Is it due to economic conditions or are there some other factors?
Nevertheless, brain drain in different fields is a reality. In the research field it is linked to our very low capacity to have excellent research centres with a certain critical mass. This is actually the problem: that we cannot do excellent research and have a critical mass in all fields. A small country like Slovakia should decide to have two, three or maximum four important centres where we can attract people. Perhaps we should not talk about brain drain but brain circulation instead, because we need to have mobility, which has been for centuries the major learning approach to gain new skills. It is absolutely crucial for scientific development and advancement. In Slovakia’s case, it is only one-way mobility, because we are not building our capacity to attract. In order to attract you need to be visible, excellent, and relevant. Once we have a field where we can easily get good brains from other parts of the world then we will have this balance.
TSS: You have several times stressed the importance of connecting academic research with practice and called for an eco-systemic approach to science and education. Could you briefly describe how such approach should work?
To have an innovative society we need creative individuals, but they cannot be nurtured in a standardised way. The biggest challenge is to move from formal to more informal, experience-driven education, which will empower individuals to find their own talents they can nourish in the future. That’s the basis of the eco-system. For an innovative eco-system, for advanced manufacturing or new innovative products, we need to have talented people first. The eco-system assumes the interaction of these talented people; then interaction between technology, knowledge, policy-making and financial systems, which is extremely important to get a new product to the market and new social innovations to society. Innovations are appearing only through interaction. Then, the cultural dimension is also important since culture is bringing a new way of looking at things; a sort of fresh air, fresh blood into the system. We somehow understand culture as a cherry on the cake, but not an important element. But it is an extremely important element for innovation and for talent development.
TSS: You have been stressing the importance of support for talented people in science and research. Why are Slovak institutions doing such a poor job in recognizing and supporting talents? How can this change?
TSS: Is the problem of science and education in Slovakia because of insufficient state support, as universities and institutions often suggest, or does the problem germinate from within the system itself?
TSS: The European Commission has been supporting mobility within academia. Slovakia is not yet among the popular destinations for foreign students. Why should the country try to attract more foreign students and academics to Slovakia?
When it comes to Roma we are mostly look at them as burden for the society, but instead we should see the huge potential and work on using the potential and source for enriching our culture. We should be looking at neighbouring countries or more distant geographical places and areas in terms of knowledge that can enrich the society. We will be getting two major benefits: more innovative and creative people and understanding the complexity of the globe and leaving the fears behind. Isolation in societies results in xenophobia. Once we are more open, more tolerant, we will be more self-confident because we will discover that Slovaks are just as good as Americans or French or British and that the Roma are just as good as Slovaks or Hungarians. It will boost our capacity to resist temptations of extremism, because that is a huge danger and we are not self-confident enough to be resistant against the temptation of easy solutions. Once we understand the complexity of the world we will understand that easy solutions are only in the heads of stupid people.
TSS: You have also said that a university needs to have a soul? Is there a university with a soul in Slovakia, or in the wider Visegrad Four region?
I spent a few days at Harvard Kennedy School of Government. I entered the building and I instantly felt the energy. It was full of people from early morning to late night. They were studying, discussing and the environment was very stimulating. In Europe, we often have the university in prestigious old buildings but you don’t always feel this energy.
TSS: The education system in Slovakia is a huge concern. The government is now focusing on vocational education while it now has a list of professions it would support. What are the risks, if any, in such approach? What should the attributes of a larger education reform be?
There is a deterioration of values here. If you go to Japan, there is somebody who is cleaning the streets or toilets and this person is proud of what he or she is doing. The toilet cleaner can be an elite if is somebody is doing it with high quality of performance. For a society this value is extremely important. Once we understand this, we will be putting things into the right place.
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