Advancing scientific research

SLOVAKIA has not been very successful thus far in drawing down money allocated to the country from the EU’s Regional Development Fund to support scientific research, so several Slovak universities have now decided to band together to improve the situation.

Bratislava Science City could be a leader in biomedical researchBratislava Science City could be a leader in biomedical research (Source: Sme- J. Krošlák)

SLOVAKIA has not been very successful thus far in drawing down money allocated to the country from the EU’s Regional Development Fund to support scientific research, so several Slovak universities have now decided to band together to improve the situation.

The Education Ministry, the Finance Ministry and representatives of Slovakia’s scientific community agreed in early March that they will seek to increase funds coming from the EU by focusing on larger projects such as construction of science parks or technology centres.

One of the applications prepared under this strategy is for building Bratislava Science City, jointly developed by Comenius University (UK), the Slovak University of Technology (STU) and the Slovak Academy of Sciences (SAV), that would be built in the Mlynská Dolina and Patrónka part of the city. These three institutions are already undertaking top-level scientific research in Slovakia in terms of quality and quantity, according to the rector of UK, Karol Mičieta.

“Research is the tool to evolve creativity – this is the main objective of our mutual message,” Róbert Redhammer, the rector of STU, told The Slovak Spectator.

Slovakia has drawn slightly over 18 percent of the total financial resources that have been allocated by the EU to the country’s Operational Programme Research and Development for 2007-2013. Redhammer explained that the main objective of the joint approach by UK, STU and SAV is to use funds available under this operational programme to modernise existing institutions in Mlynská Dolina and Patrónka so that they are more competitive with institutions in countries that invest more into research.

Various kinds of projects are part of the Bratislava Science City idea but they all focus on three fields – environmental issues, biomedicine and information technology – because both UK and STU have specialised faculties in these fields located in STU’s campus in Mlynská Dolina and at SAV’s offices and laboratories in Patrónka.

Jaromír Pastorek, the head of SAV, said his institution plans to focus on development of materials technology and biomedicine within Bratislava Science City.

“[Approval of] projects is based on sustainability, top research, participation in international consortiums, especially those within the EU’s framework projects, and cooperation with domestic as well as foreign research institutions and companies,” Pastorek told The Slovak Spectator.

Mičieta explained that Comenius University would like to focus mostly on molecular and environmental medicine and biotechnology and expects to bring the results of the research into practical application.

“We want these projects to solve issues comprehensively, not only their medical-scientific part but their societal and humanitarian part as well,” Mičieta said.

STU plans to divide funds it could receive from the EU among various projects, such as information science and information and communication technologies, including electronics, automation and nanotechnologies.

“We assume that Mlynská Dolina will become the mecca of Slovak IT research, development and industry as some kind of centre of collocation,” Redhammer told The Slovak Spectator, adding that private companies will be welcome to participate in the research. He said a second package of funding could go towards research on renewable energy sources and flood prevention systems.

Bureaucracy as a barrier

Education Minister Eugen Jurzyca told the parliamentary committee for education, science, young people and sport in early September that Slovakia will draw all available funds from this EU operational programme on time. But the heads of the three institutions involved in Bratislava Science City say that a problem is bureaucracy surrounding the application process.

“The biggest and the most illogical problem is the high rigidness used by national authorities in interpretation of Brussels regulations,” Redhammer told The Slovak Spectator. “It means that we have to prove that all rules, including the Slovak ones, have been observed.” He added that another problem is the “financial motivation of employees in the government institutions that naturally forces them to find as many mistakes in the application as possible”.

The EU’s rules on grants from some of its structural funds restrict regions with economic performance better than the EU average from drawing funds and since Bratislava Region is in that category there are some concerns that this might hinder getting funding for Bratislava Science City projects in the 2014-2020 programming period.

But Pastorek does not believe this will be a problem, explaining that there should not be any differentiation between Bratislava and the rest of Slovakia in the area of scientific research, while also noting that no significant research institution has been built in Bratislava for the past 20 years.

“For Bratislava and Slovakia it [Bratislava Science City] will mean the concentration of top research at one locality, a higher level of cooperation between SAV, UK, STU and the EU, and significant consolidation of infrastructure,” Pastorek explained.

Nitra takes a similar approach

Bratislava is not the only locality where research institutions are uniting to have a better chance at receiving funding from the EU. Constantine the Philosopher University (UKF) and the Slovak University of Agriculture (SPU), both in Nitra, are jointly seeking to build modern scientific laboratories and workplaces within a research centre focused on agriculture, biotechnologies and other technological processes, the SITA newswire reported.

The centre will also unite institutions such as local offices of the Environment Ministry and institutes of the Slovak Academy of Sciences located in Nitra, the rector of UKF, Libor Vozár, told SITA at the end of September.

The centre will focus on researching hazards in food products such as E-coli and BSE, commonly known as mad-cow disease as well as communicable diseases such as bird flu, SITA wrote.

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