5 May 2012
Ahead of the May 6th elections and with a second 130 billion-euro rescue deal keeping Greece above water, scientists at research centres across the country are uneasy as to what the future may hold for their field in the midst of a new 10m-euro cut announced earlier last month.
For Konstantinos Kokkinoplitis, general secretary of the General Secretariat for Research and Technology, tough times call for flexible measures but science must remain on course.
"This means giving priority to human resources and, at the same time, making the best use of resources while taking measures that will ensure future viability," he told SETimes.
Earlier this year the General Secretariat for Research and Technology merged the country's 57 public research institutes into 31.
"In our efforts to maintain functional operation and tackle waste, we merged these institutes successfully and are preparing for a second phase of cleaning up without shutting down or firing people," he said.
"Our basic goal -- irrelevant of the crisis -- has been to make research and development more functional, and at the same time financially viable while opening up to competitiveness in efforts to attract new investments. This will undeniably offer a step towards economic recovery," he explained.
Costas Fotakis, president of the Foundation for Research and Technology-Hellas (FORTH), the largest research centre in Greece, and director of the Institute of Electronic Structure and Laser (IESL), told SETimes that it is not so much an economic problem as it is a glitch in the actual system.
"You can have scientists launching initiatives and bringing a programme to Greece and then seeing it get stuck in red tape," he told SETimes.
Founded three decades ago by returning Greek scientists and ranked 12th among European research centres for successful participation in EU projects from 2007 to 2010, FORTH's major sources of income are from competitive grants and bilateral contracts with private and public sectors.
Fotakis thinks the recent crisis has led to a much-needed re-evaluation of research policies, and stresses the need to create long-term strategies based on synergies.
"Ensuring Greece's participation in international science projects is a big deal with far-reaching effects. A priority would be to strengthen international collaboration through our participation. This said, it is vital that other ministries also contribute," he said.
Some researchers are sceptical and think that further measures will cost Greek science in the long run. Costas Synolakis, president of the Hellenic Centre for Marine Research, said any further cuts would create problems.
"Everyone agreed that if it comes to the survival of the centres, the contribution to CERN -- the European Organisation for Nuclear Research -- will need to go or be substantially reduced. It is sad, but it came to that," he told Science Insider.
Though a large number of scientists come from Greece -- according to OECD data, science and engineering degrees represent 23.4% of all new degrees, above the OECD average (20.9%) -- and the fact that the number of researchers has increased at an average annual rate of 3.7% between 2001 and 2007, science funding has been cut.
Human Resources in Science and Technology occupations represent 23% of total employment, and unemployment among graduates was at 5.7% in 2008, compared to the OECD average of 3.2%.
For 2007, Greece spent 0.58% of its GDP on research and development, lagging behind the OECD average of 1.85%. Promises in 2009 to boost this figure to 2% by 2013 vanished into thin air. Instead the overall annual budget of approximately 80m euros was slashed by about 30%, to roughly 55m euros.
Among the measures taken, including lowering salaries and merging research facilities, Greece has temporarily reduced its 14.7m-euro annual membership fee for 2012 to the European Space Agency (ESA) to 6m euros, and is set to pay the rest by 2013, and is currently in talks to lower its 17m-euro contribution to CERN. Both are taking a large bite out of the budget. Greece has been a member CERN for 58 years.
The country’s 11 research centres account for 55m euros of the education ministry's overall budget.
Kokkinoplitis concluded that an important step has been taken. "We aim to create functional institutes that will be competitive and able to stand alongside international research institutes. For many years Greece has been introverted as far as science is concerned. It is important to change that now," he said.