Czechs balance priorities

March 24, 2006

Research institutions in the Czech Republic that fail to come up to scratch will face closure under planned changes to the way science is funded in the country.

A Research and Development Council review, headed by Jirí Havel, the Deputy Prime Minister, has urged a reallocation of the state research budget, worth 20 billion koruna (£480 million) a year. Weak institutions will be stripped of funding or even closed, and support shifted to those with the best track records. By 2010, half the national research budget could go to the country's top institutions.

The review follows years of complaints from the scientific community that research was suffering from insufficient funding channelled through as many as 20 different state budgets.

Mr Havel says the current system - a mishmash of successive policies - is inefficient and "undignified", and relies too heavily on grants and subsidies delivered through individual ministries with varying policies.

In the past, many grants were based on what research institutions intended to publish rather than on results, Mr Havel told the Czech daily newspaper Hospodárske Noviny . Consequently, a number of researchers who had work published in leading journals missed out on funding.

"All (research) institutes will have time to prepare for the changes," Mr Havel said, adding that the new funding system would bring stability to science and make Czech institutions attractive partners for other European researchers.

The initiative has been welcomed by leaders of the scientific community.

"When reasonably implemented, this plan should make for more effective distribution of funds," Václav Paces, president of the Czech Academy of Sciences, told The Times Higher .

"It will be a continual, gradual process and not shock therapy."

Likely funding losers will be institutes identified by government research as the weakest, such as small private institutions, heritage bodies, libraries and national park authorities.

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