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Science Suffering in Bulgaria

EU freezes R&D funding because the country couldn’t come up with enough qualified local scientists to evaluate proposals. 7 February 2018

A meeting of European Union science ministers to discuss the future of European research policy has brought Bulgaria’s sluggish scientific performance and funding gaps into focus, according to science journal Nature.

 

Last year, Bulgaria was set to receive 150 million euros ($186 million) from the EU to build facilities for research and innovation, under a program that aims to boost economic growth in poor regions.

 

But the EU froze the funds when the Bulgarian government couldn’t produce enough sufficiently qualified scientists to evaluate potential projects. The tender criteria called for scientists with three or more publications with at least five citations in the top journals in their fields.

 

A large reason for that failure is tied to the country’s “brain drain” – among the most severe in the region. According to The Financial Times, while official emigration statistics are scarce, Sofia-based economists agree that about 30,000 people leave each year, mostly students pursuing higher education abroad. Nature cites a figure of more than 30 percent of Ph.D. holders pursuing careers abroad, contributing to a low level of scientific output compared with its neighbors.

 

The recorate of Sofia University. Image via Plamen Agov/Wikimedia Commons.

 

To make matters worse, in November, partly in response to the anticipated funding, the Bulgarian government cut its 2018 science and higher-education budget by around 25 percent, Nature writes.

 

The recent developments have frustrated Bulgaria’s scientists, who say that without adequate funds it is impossible to prepare research that might invigorate Bulgarian science and technology.

 

“Now, we cannot prepare proposals because we are not going to have the infrastructure,” said Ana Proykova, a physicist at Sofia University and an adviser on European research infrastructure to Bulgaria’s government.

 

 

 

  • Those funds would go toward building 11 new centers of excellence and competence, and contributing toward 20 regional laboratories and pilot centers. Overall, Bulgaria is eligible for EU funding of almost 600 million euros for science, research, and education.

 

  • The “brain drain” in Bulgaria is somewhat tempered by the country’s vibrant tech industry, according to the Financial Times. Krasimir Valchev, Bulgaria’s science and education minister, has attributed the slower rate of emigration in recent years to the IT sector, which he credits with retaining talent and encouraging those already abroad to return home.
Compiled by Kate Syme-Lamont
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