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Analytical Paper: Reforming the Research & Development Sector in Belarus. Challenges and Possible Solutions

The Ostrogorski Centre presents a new analytical paper ‘Reforming the Research & Development Sector in Belarus: Challenges and Possible Solutions’, written by Andrei Kazakevich and Kiryl Haroshka. The paper primarily based on suggestions made during a conference on reform of Belarusian...

The Ostrogorski Centre presents a new analytical paper ‘Reforming the Research & Development Sector in Belarus: Challenges and Possible Solutions’, written by Andrei Kazakevich and Kiryl Haroshka.

The paper primarily based on suggestions made during a conference on reform of Belarusian higher education held on 27 December 2018 in Minsk, organised by the Ostrogorski Centre.

Dedicated to the issues of higher education and its reforms in Belarus, the conference allowed academics, practitioners and administrators to discuss the existing problems and possible solutions. The main topics concerned new forms of practice-oriented business education at masters level, modernization of higher education at entrepreneurial university framework, reforms of Belarusian scientific research, and the issue of plagiarism at Belarusian universities.

The paper suggests that in order to build a modern economy, Belarus should increase research spending to at least 2008 levels ($240 million). However, any increase in public budgetary spending needs to be supported by appropriate reforms in science and higher education in order to increase the efficiency of public spending.

The most pressing issues include increasing transparency across the R&D sector; increasing the role of open competitions for the state’s scientific grants; changing the model of financial incentives; resolving conflicts of interest in research management; developing research in higher education and changing the principles used to evaluate the results of scientific activities.

The major conflict of interest in the R&D sector relates to the special status and powers of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus. Universities should expand their research activities through either unification with research institutions, or a significant increase in spending on science.

The basis for evaluating the results of scientific activities among researchers should be through publications included in international citation indices (especially Web of Science and Scopus). At the same time, there should be developed mechanisms minimising the negative effects that may occur from the adoption of international assessment systems, in particular for individual disciplines and academic communities.

Recommendations

The research proposes recommendations on how to reform the research & development sector in Belarus. In particular:

1.Research and development expenditures. Since 2008 Belarusian science has developed under adverse conditions associated with a significant reduction in public and private funding. In order to preserve and develop the country’s research potential in the coming years, it is necessary to increase budgetary expenditure on R&D at least to the level of 2008 ($240 million), as well as stimulate spending on R&D from commercial organisations. At the same time, the increase in expenditure should be accompanied by reforms aimed at increasing the efficiency of public funds’ allocation, such as increasing transparency and strengthening the role of competitive and project financing mechanisms.

2. Forecasts. Forecasting the development of R&D sector should be more realistic and not set unattainable objectives – in particular, not aiming at the rapid growth of R&D to 2% of GDP or higher. Over the next five years, achieving expenditure on research and development in the range 1–1.5% of GDP should be considered as an optimistic scenario.

3. Transparency. The R&D sector should become more transparent, and the distribution of finance more understandable and open to members of the research community, as well as to society as a whole. It is necessary to oblige state-funded research institutions to publish narrative and financial reports. Additionally, financial reports and detailed narrative reports should be published upon completion of all national research programmes.

4. Competitive and project-based financing. In the coming years, the role of competitive and project-based funding should be significantly increased (to 25–30% of total budget expenditures). Accordingly, the budget of the BRFFR should be increased, and the Foundation itself should be reorganised and subordinated to the Council of Ministers or to the relevant ministry.

5. Conflicts of interest. In R&D sector conflicts of interests should be excluded, primarily related to the special status of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus. Its authority to coordinate research, to control budget spending, to redistribute funds, to define national research programmes, and to certify should be transferred to the ministries, primarily the State Committee for Science and Technologies. In turn, the Academy should concentrate on research activities and solving other scientific problems.

6. Science in universities. The greatest challenge for Belarusian R&D sector is a clear administrative and economic separation between the field of science and higher education. There is an acute need to return research activity to universities. This is badly needed if the quality of education and the competitiveness of higher education are to improve. This can be done either through the incorporation of research organisations into universities or through a significant increase in expenditure on research activity in universities.

7. Criteria for assessment of research activity. The main criteria for the assessment of research activities should be publication and citation indices in international scientific publications (primarily Web of Science and Scopus). In doing so, mechanisms should be developed that would minimise the negative effects of the international assessment system for individual disciplines and academic communities. Evaluation of the results of scientific activity should affect career prospects and the level of wages in the system of higher education and academic research institutions. At the same time, special incentives should be developed to increase the number of publications in English.

8. Nationwide research database. It is necessary to create a nationwide database of publications and citations. Such a platform can be useful not only for scientists, universities, research institutes but also for periodicals and regulatory bodies.

9. Development of language skills. It is necessary to change completely the approach to the linguistic training of graduate students and scientists, including by compensating the costs of commercial courses for the most active researches. Language skills of researches must be confirmed using the international testing system (for example, IELTS and TOEFL).

  • The analytical paper in English is available here.
  • The analytical paper in Russian is available here.
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