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A “donor” for abroad?

Ukrainian scientists want to work for their own country
06 December, 00:00

The world’s leading countries are living in a so-called knowledge society with which all other countries are trying to play catch-up. As a result, something along the lines of a cold war of knowledge is being waged. Ukraine is also involved in this process, but no significant victories have been scored on this front. Scientists believe that to make a breakthrough in the economy in favor of science, the domestic output of science-intensive products must reach a critical mass, thus ensuring the economic function of science. To do this, they say, science must be funded at least by 1.7 percent of the GDP.

Not once during the years of independence have budget appropriations for science in Ukraine reached this level, noted Borys Malytsky, director of the H. M. Dibrova Center for Scientific-Technical Potential and the History of Science at Ukraine’s National Academy of Sciences (NASU), during his speech at the international conference “The Knowledge Society: New Challenges for Science and Scientists” recently held in Kyiv.

Unfortunately, in the international arena Ukraine is only a powerful intellectual donor. According to Malytsky, approximately half of Ukraine’s scientific potential is involved in carrying out foreign commissions. What should be done to produce knowledge in the interests of our country? Malytsky believes that stimuli are required throughout the innovative process, all the way to introducing a new product, and he points to Japan as an example. When the Japanese developed an electric car, the government ordered all civil servants to use it and to give buyers discounts. The production of electric vehicles rose instantly. Malytsky says a knowledge society must be created in Ukraine and the economy restructured with a focus on high-tech.

The conference participants were united by common sore points on the road to scientific progress. After the Soviet Union’s collapse science was no longer regarded as a national priority, and this inflicted irreparable damage on the scientific potential of academies of sciences in the CIS countries. At the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine this potential has diminished more than twice compared to 1990. Young and middle-aged researchers, the most productive part of the scientific community, have pulled out en masse. Scientists admit that science is becoming hopelessly obsolete, and there are practically no opportunities to encourage young people to work in research institutions.

The problem of housing for young scientists remains unsolved. According to Vitaliy Pokhodenko, vice president of NASU, the system of long-term youth housing loans is ineffective and offers no chances for actually obtaining apartments, considering current housing market prices and salaries in the scientific community.

But low salaries are only one aspect of the declining prestige of scientific work. The need to strengthen the material and technical base of science has been discussed for a long time. Pokhodenko says that the kind of equipment research centers have cannot solve all the most sophisticated problems facing modern science. Last year, for the first time in the past decade, the NASU received budget appropriations to modernize the instrument base. Pokhodenko has reached the disheartening conclusion that there is a world of difference between the opportunities to conduct research on world-class levels for a foreign scientist operating state-of-the art equipment and his Ukrainian colleague, who is forced to use instruments dating from the 1970s-1980s.

Ukrainian scientists are not the exception in the CIS. Similar situations exist in other former Soviet republics. At the conference scientists representing CIS countries agreed that the key to solving the problem of recruiting and maintaining young people in science careers is in the hands of the state, which must finally move from declarations about the priority of science to concrete and large-scale support.

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