ERCIM News No.38 - July 1999

Basic Research, Information Technologies, and their Perspectives in the Czech Academy

by Milan Mares

Like in other countries in Central Europe, the research in the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic (formerly Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences), its management and the position of researchers after the early nintees display significant changes. Among the general and generally known conditions being valid in the former regime, there existed additional problems connected specifically with the R&D in the informatics, information sciences and information technologies. Namely, the embargo on advanced technologies forced the researchers to ‘repeat’ the work already done in developing even simple elements of high electronic technology. Certain ignorance regarding the copyrights of software products led to the existence of their uncontrollable illegal ‘import’. General unconcern on the industrial production of advanced information technologies essentially limited the career possibilities of young gifted specialists outside the universities and basic research facilities, demand for them was rather limited. That all has changed almost overnight.

However these changes are beneficent, from the general point of view, they bring qualitatively new problems to be solved by the managers of the research. The grant system of the financing of research projects led some researchers to a feeling of lower stability of their position.

Their ability and readiness to start risky research in quite new fields connected with the possibility of failure or, at least, with relatively long period of decrease of the publication outputs (with all the consequences for the success in the grant competition) becomes much lower. The ‘safety’ research in well-known areas seems to be more attractive. The mobility of researchers and research teams, as a natural reaction on the flexibility of supports, is rather difficult in a small country like the Czech Republic and this difficulty is even increased by the extremely limited possibilities to find adequate accommodation for researcher’s family. Last but far not least, the demand for information and computer specialists in the industry, business and banking has rapidly increased. The salaries offered by these new potential employers are much higher than those ones, which can be achieved in an academic institute or university. In the situation of young families this argument becomes very cogent.

Gifted postgraduate students frequently understand their study as an opportunity to increase their price on the labor market. It is not wrong, generally, but it would be desirable to keep at least some (desirably the most gifted ones) in the institutes. All these new circumstances met the managements of the research institutes (also usually new) and confronted them with the problem to cope with the instability of research staff and guarantee its fluent regeneration. The way to manage this situation is both, simple in its general formulation and difficult in the practical realization. It is expectable that the labor market in the field of information science and technology will turn more saturated and that this can contribute to the equilibrium between the supply and demand for researchers in the institutes. But this expectation cannot be the starting point for the management of IT research in the next years.

First, it is necessary to built stable core of tribal researchers in the institute. This need not be very large, but it must be currently completed and its members have to be creative personalities being sure that the institute reckons with them. This core can be surrounded by a staff of researchers moving between institutes and applied research even with the risk of irreversibility of some moves or increasing their qualification. Such system cannot be effective without mobility of researchers - in the case of the Czech science also the international one in both directions - including the joint solution of research and grant projects. Also the narrow cooperation with universities and participation on the education is necessary for a sound life of the research institute of the considered type. Cooperation with industry and other consumers of applied results is effective only if it concerns original non-standard solutions of very specific problems. Academic institute cannot (and should not) compete with routine products of specialized firms. The achievement of such dynamic stability of the research system in Academic institutes is not solvable in short time and by simple tools, but it must be at the horizon of our endeavor if we want to manage the IT basic research on the level demanded by the contemporary world.

Please contact:

Milan Mars - CRCIM
Tel: +420 2 6884 669

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