“We shall gently separate science from its imitation”, – Yulia Bezvershenko

«Потрібно акуратно відділити науку від її імітації», - Юлія Безвершенко

Yulia Bezvershenko told “Innovation House” about science reform, newly created Scientific Committee and its tasks, as well as when we shall expect “breakthroughs” from our science.

“Ukrainian science shall be reformed!” This thesis is shared by scientists, public servants and taxpayers, who finance the existence of science at their own expense. Except that they often understand the reforms quite differently. “Guaranteed success recipes”, offered by them, include, among others: to change the Head of the National Academy of Sciences (the NAS) of Ukraine, to set a course for “useful developments” as the main product of scientific activity.

But those, who keep track of events in scientific field, know that reforms are already taking place. Although not so fast and not as easy as it wished to be.

In particular, on May 30, the first composition of Scientific Committee of National Council of Ukraine on Science and Technology Development. Creation of this new authority is provided for by the Law “On Scientific and Scientific-Technical Activity”, adopted at the end of 2015.

The council shall become the advisory and consultative authority under the Government and shall be of paramount importance in relationship building between science, state power and real economy sector. 

“Innovation House” had a talk with one of the architects of scientific reform, scientist-physicist Yulia Bezvershenko, about the tasks of Scientific Committee, as well as about scientific reform prospects.

Who is she

PhD in Physics and Mathematics, Junior Researcher of Bogolyubov Institute for Theoretical Physics of the NAS of Ukraine, Senior Lecturer of National University of “Kyiv-Mohyla Academy”, Deputy Chairman of the Young Scientists Council of the NAS of Ukraine, Vice President of NGO “Unia Scientifica”, Member of working group on preparation of the Law “On Scientific and Scientific-Technical Activity”.

On Scientific Committee composition

The first composition of Scientific Committee encourages me. I’m personally know considerable part of people as high-level scientists with international links, as persons, who are ready to work for the sake of better future of Ukrainian science.

We shall understand that those decisions that the Cabinet of Ministers will make based on Scientific Committee’s recommendations will not always be popular. Therefore, it is of great importance for such authority to have solid confidence among scientists. And, as for me, in view of this, Identification Committee succeeded to elect its composition not according to the letter of the law, but according to the spirit of the law as well.

On the speed of reforms

Scientific Committee composition had to be approved as far back as last year. Delay for more than six months testifies that the Cabinet of Ministers is currently unable to quickly and efficiently implement the very reforms started by it.

The same happened when the Identification Committee was in the process of creation. When the special competitive commission chose its composition, the Cabinet of Ministers took several months to approve it. The government explains that such delay was caused by the need for the check of candidates in terms of conflict of interests, and they spent plenty time, trying to figure out how to do this. But that is just the point – approval lasted too long.

The first meeting of Identification Committee was held last October. Further, the necessary documents were quickly prepared. But to announce the competition, it required regulation on National Council on Science and Technology for the potential candidates of National Council to understand their future duties and powers. And you know what? There was nothing diverting the Government from working on this regulation, starting from January 16, 2016 (effective date of the law – editor’s note), but it managed to approve it only in April this year. Delay once again.

Now the Cabinet of Ministers shall approve the list of members of Scientific Committee, as well as to form and approve the list of members of the Administrative Committee. The question that has to be answered is how long will it take? National Council will not be able to start its work. And it has so many pressing challenges that the members of the Scientific Committee may found themselves under time pressure, when they will be told “this is a list of what you should do in a few months”.

On the very first tasks of National Council“We shall gently separate science from its imitation”, - Yulia Bezvershenko

One of the high-priority and core tasks of Scientific Committee – to create the National Research Fund. First of all, it shall develop the Regulation on Fund. Secondly, it shall be the Identification Committee for the Scientific Council of National Research Fund, namely, members of the Scientific Committee of Council will elect members of the Scientific Council of the Fund – its main principal control authority.

One more task – development of new assessment system of the results of scientific activity of institutions, since the current system of state attestation is wide open to criticism.

Further, in autumn National Council shall listen to and assess the reports of key spending units for the science (the NAS of Ukraine, sectorial academies, ministries, etc.) on the state of funds application for the scientific and scientific-technical activities, as well as results obtained. Afterwards, National Council shall submit proposals to the State budget for 2018.

Furthermore, before the end of the year national Roadmap of the European Research Area shall be developed. This will finally allow for the use of opportunities more efficiently, which Ukraine has as the associated state within “Horizon 2020” program.

On working groups

It is of critical importance for the mechanism of working groups of the National Council to start its operation. The fact is that 24 persons, delegated by the scientific community to the National Council, will not be physically able to fulfill all the required functions. Therefore the law provides for the creation of working groups from any given direction, to which national and international experts will be engaged. This will give an option of launching the concurrent processes for the fulfillment of urgent tasks and use the expert capacity of scientific community to the fullest extent. Draft decisions developed by the working groups will be presented for the consideration of Scientific Committee, and then – for the consideration of the National Council.

On the place of the National Research Foundation

As of today the financing of science in Ukraine is arranged in such a manner. There are so-called main spending units of budgetary funds for the science. Pursuant to the law, there are about thirty of them: the NAS of Ukraine, sectorial academies of science, Ministry of Education and Science, other ministries controlling the scientific institutions, etc. National Research Fund will be yet another spending unit for the science and, like others, will have its own line in the budget.

Financing of science may be either basic or competitive (project-tied). Basic financing is that which is spent for the maintenance of buildings, infrastructure, salary of researchers – in other words, provides means for the ensuring of the constancy and duration of researches. While the competitive financing is allocated for the specific task. And you know what? Fund will distribute funds expressly on a competitive basis.

Elimination of illiteracy:

National Council of Ukraine on Science and Technology Development consists of two committees – Scientific and Administrative. 24 scientists having outstanding scientific achievements and unblemished reputation are the members of Scientific Committee, provided that they shall not be Executives of scientific institutions or higher educational institutions and shall perform their work in National Council on a voluntary basis. Staff composition of Scientific Committee shall be elected by specially created Identification Committee and shall be approved by the Cabinet of Ministers.

Moreover Cabinet of Ministers appoints the composition of the Administrative Committee. It is formed from 24 representatives of central executive authorities holding positions not lower than Deputy Executives, as well as representatives of the NAS of Ukraine and sectorial academies of sciences – not lower than Vice Presidents. It also consists of representatives of universities, science-driven enterprises and other agencies related to the science.

On basic financing

Sometimes we hear propositions to switch over the science to competitive financing, and to refuse from the basic financing at all. There are many nuances here, but established world’s practice testifies that there is always basic financing (although the ratio between the basic and project-tied financing in different countries can significantly vary). But when I say that there shall be basic financing, this means that it shall be not for anyone, and one shall not even ask what exactly this institution is dealing with. New state attestation system of scientific institutions shall be put into operation, which will assist in finding out what institutions really demonstrate good results and which one of them have only formal attitude to the science, and do not do science at the adequate level. Any reorganizations and optimizations of scientific institutions network may only be possible upon solid pieces of work on detection of the real state of affairs. For this purpose we shall perform independent examination with a glance to global best practices and attracting foreign experts. This requires extensive resources – financial, human and timing, but without this we will be unable to get off the ground. Moreover, in the right direction.

On scientific activity effectiveness

Current state attestation system of scientific institutions is performed based on out-of-date methodologies and one should not consider it seriously for the efficiency assessment of one or another institute. For now, the only alternative to the old system is the Assessment Methodology of Scientific Institutions of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine approved in March. The experience of Germany-based Leibniz Scientific Association was attracted for its development. In early June it was approved as the obligatory, and this summer the first 29 institutions of the NAS of Ukraine will be assessed with the aid of it. This methodology makes provisions for the assessment to be performed by expert groups consisting of persons having no conflict of interests. This is a very solid experience, it is new for Ukraine, and I know that colleagues from other sectorial academies of sciences are already interested in it. I hope that it will form the backbone of new state attestation system of scientific institutions, which shall be developed by the National Council of Ukraine on Science and Technology Development and shall be approved by the Cabinet of Ministers.

On optimization of the NAS

Relevant organizational decisions will be made based on the assessment results of scientific institutions.

First option: everything is perfect in institution – so perfect that it can be given even more basic financing. We left such an option, although it is clear that as of today there is almost nowhere from where we may increase financing. Second option: everything is perfect in institution, it shall receive such financing, as it used to receive. Third option – there is something wrong about institution. This assessment shall be accompanied by detailed report on the exact root of the problems. In this case, the institution is given several years to eliminate them, and, afterwards, new inspection is scheduled. Well, the worst option: everything is too bad in the institution, it shall be reorganized or wound up.

But in the latter case it’s not all that simple. It is logical to assume that when you close the inefficient institution, then its financing shall be allocated between efficient institutions that continue their operation. But at present we have no such mechanisms able to provide for such financial flexibility at an adequate level.

In the meantime, it is obvious that our country has limited amount of funds, therefore we shall gently separate science from its imitation, and the released funds shall be steered to something alive and of strategic importance. And this, in its turn, may lead, particularly, to the structural reorganization of the NAS. I hope the Academy’s management team has enough will for reasonable steps.

By all means, similar processes shall be launched in sectorial academies of sciences as well, in other state scientific institutions to clearly understand what is actually going on. Only in this case one can speak about scientific institutions network optimization, which is so often discussed by those in power.

On scientific breakthroughs and innovations

Something breaking through – scientific results or science-driven innovations – cannot be originated out of thin air. For them to emerge we shall provide for the certain temperature in this thermostat. As soon as top brains enter the science and stay in it, as soon as people see the prospects, gain access to the best research infrastructure and are able to cooperate in a qualitative manner, as soon as there is the freedom of scientific creativity, only then the temperature of thermostat will be high, and against this high average background the peaks will arise – the very same “breakthroughs”, which are often enquired about from our scientists. And the question of useful inventions shall be addressed not only to scientists, who survive under conditions of total underfinancing of science, showing tolerance by the state to the pseudoscience, plagiarism and explicit disregard to the profession of scientist, but to every Ukrainian government, inclusive of current one: what exactly has it done for such inventions to emerge?