SCIENCE  of  LATVIA: Policy. Documents ________________________________________

The Present Situation of Science in Latvia

 Juris Ekmanis
Vice-President of the Latvian Academy of Sciences

Paper presented at the 8th  Baltic Conference on Intellectual Co-operation 
(Tallinn, Estonia, June 15 -16, 2001)

Published in: 
National Strategies of Research in Smaller European Countries. Tallinn: Estonian Academy of Sciences, 2001,  pp. 47-52.

Analysis of the current situation of science in Latvia shows that Latvian scientists enter the 21st century with both achievements and severe problems. However, the latter are not so dramatic, and science in Latvia still exists. It does, despite the coercive experiment of the last years, when the lowest critical limit of financing was determined, under which some of the scientific branches are doomed to complete disappearance.

The rooms of the Latvian Academy of Sciences have heard many contradictory opinions about the situation of science in Latvia. It would be worth to mention two of them:

1.      education and science are the national wealth of Latvia (Nov. 1999, Society of Latvian Intellectuals and the meeting of LAS);

2.      the current science policy in Latvia cannot prevent its collapse and the ensuing rapid decline of the quality of higher education; moreover, it eliminates a real possibility for science to influence the processes of Latvia's human development and national economy (Febr. 2001, conclusion of the long-term development concept “Latvia: from vision to work”).

The truth lies usually somewhere in the middle between the extreme opinions, because the science policy on a national level has made it almost impossible for the scientists to re-orientate their research. Such a policy dramatically restricts (both in the bureaucratic and in the organisational sense) the possibilities for Latvian scientists to attract any serious foreign (mainly EU) investments.

Just to turn to the traditional national budget allocations for science. Not mentioning absolute numbers, let me use some comparisons. Recently A. Siliņš, the LAS Secretary General reviewed Latvia's national budget for 2001, and noted that the budget of the LR Saeima (85 %) could be compared to science budget. It could be easily calculated, that the funds available to each member of the Saeima, consisting of 100 members,  for his / her operations and an active Latvian scientist out of 2000 scientists, relate to each other as 17:1. Our officials usually tell that the only way to improve the financial position of scientists is by reducing their number. Hopefully, the number of deputies and scientists will be never made equal in Latvia.

The national budget allocations for science are earmarked for the following kinds of scientific activity:

1)      Payment for Latvia’s participation in EU 5th Framework  programme (5.3 % from the total budgetary funding of science). This is the only financial source with a state-guaranteed yearly increase (according to the regulations of EU, and Latvia has to observe them), and  Latvian scientists consistently raise twice as much finances as is paid for the participation by the Latvian side (needless to say that the funding comes from the EU budget). In this kind of scientific activity Latvian scientists have entered into a fierce competition with their European colleagues and the start proves to be very successful.

2)      Research ordered by state institutions (6.9 %). The funds are allotted to ministries for solving local scientific problems. For many years these themes were not known to our scientific community, and finally in 2000 with a financial support of the ‘Soros Fund - to Latvia’ institution these investigations were summarized and reviewed. It appears that this kind of research is solely funded from the state science budget and no other funds are attracted.

3)      Market-oriented research (10 %). Its task is to stimulate small - scale science-intensive enterprises by partially co-financing particular pilot projects and by promoting the activities of technological centres and parks. Such form of financing is conducive to scientists’ involvement in the technological development of Latvia, since it is associated with attraction of private capital for the needs of applied science.

4)      Allocations to support scientific activity, which are earmarked for academic and applied research, and for the maintenance of the requisite infrastructure. For this purpose the largest portion (77.2 %) of the state science budget is directed. Although this activity can attract the least extra-budget money it is most strongly controlled by state institutions. Thus, for example, rules N 342 of 26 September, 200 of the Cabinet of Ministers of LR, transformed all scientific projects into state orders with all ensuing legal consequences. Moreover, starting from the year 2001, reports on each project are to be submitted quarterly and yearly. It seems that the Ministry of Education and Science of the LR has not realised yet that, in compliance with these CM rules, the Latvian Council of Science has already prepared the first complete set of reports on 695 projects with the total number of pages equal to 3000. Such a package will be submitted to the Ministry. And it will happen each quarter, so the Ministry will be forced to enlarge its staff. The more that basing on the above mentioned reports the Ministry will have to prepare a master report and forward it to the Ministry of Finances of the LR. Thus, we see how much trouble the scientists put to officials (though caused by the rules invented by the latter themselves). At the same time, it is well known that the state science budget, expressed as a percentage of the Gross Domestic product (GDP), is gradually decreasing. This fact always surprises our Western colleagues, including those from the EU. The only thing that we can tell them is that, if considered in absolute figures, the state science budget has slightly increased (by 7 % in 2000). The reason is that, in compliance with the agreement between LR and EU, for such a sum the payment for our participation in the EU.5 programme has to be increased. The growth of the Latvian GDP makes us happy, because we live in this country, yet it has nothing to do with positive changes in the funding of science.

It is, undoubtedly,  essential  to distribute the funds allocated for scientific activity among the priority scientific branches. In this sense the Latvian Council of Science has a good experience. Last summer the10-year anniversary of its work passed unnoticeably.

The LCS experts traditionally divide the Latvian science into five branches (blocks), and the governmental funds allocated for scientific activity are given to winners of the project competition and distributed among the branches as follows:

                        Natural science                                     - 22%

                        Engineering science                               - 19%

                        Medicine and biology                            - 26%

                        Agriculture and forest science                - 14%

                        Humanitarian and social science            - 19%

Obviously, it could be asked whether such a sharing is properly substantiated and whether it is correspondingly ensured by highly qualified workers.

According to the latest information which is at the LSC’s disposal, in Latvia there are about 2000 actively working scientists - those who, in compliance with the LR law “On the scientific activity”, carry out scientific works and who are awarded the Doctor grade in accordance with the established order. The division of these specialists in science branches is in precise correspondence with the finance shared (see Table 1).

Table 1

THE DISTRIBUTION OF RESEARCH POTENTIAL AND STATE SCIENCE FINANCING 
IN LATVIA ( 2001)

Blocks of research branches Active scientists, % Financing for ensuring scientific activity, % Financing of projects, % Financing of joint projects, %
Natural sciences 22 22 24 17
Engineering sciences 19 19 18 24
Medicine and biology 20 26 26 21
Agricultural sciences and forestry 14 14 13 18
Humanities and social sciences 25 19 19 20

 

The LSC carries out, on a competitive basis, financing of two kinds of projects: small-scale projects (grants), which are performed by 3-5 scientists, and large joint projects (programmes), carrying out of which consolidate several groups of scientists from various higher education establishments and scientific institutions. The tasks of these projects are different. Small projects are mainly performed at the departments and faculties of higher education establishments as an academic research, with involvement of students. The large projects are carried out, as a rule, for solving topical problems of national economy, and the state and municipal structures, as well as enterprises, are often involved in performing and financing them. However in this work, one can count only on the above- mentioned scientific potential (that is, 2000 scientists) that could be attracted to particular projects. These possibilities are demonstrated also in the distribution of financing between projects and joint projects (Table 1).

A more detailed analysis of the Latvian scientific potential proves that in the branches determined by the LSC, small working groups of scientists carry out investigations on the average for 4000 – 6000 Latvian Ls per year (see Table 2). Such level of financing, with minor deviations, is typical for all scientific branches, which means, in fact, that the funds are used only for paying the minimum salaries and the regular infrastructure expenses. This, in turn, means that it is impossible to attract governmental funds for developing science (e.g. for acquiring scientific equipment).

Such a situation has been persisting for years, and during this period of time the number of projects (grants) and the distribution of financing between the branches almost hasn’t changed (see Table 3). It could seem that in Latvia the scientific potential and financing are in balance and the development of the state doesn’t require to increase the number of scientists.

However, when estimating the situation with the number of scientists per 10000 residents not only in EU countries but also in the candidate-countries (including our most close rivals) it has to be concluded that in Latvia the situation is tragic (Table 4). Presently the number of scientists in Latvia per 10000 residents is on the average 1.9 times less than in Estonia, 1.3 times less than in Lithuania, 2.6 times less than in EU, and so on. It means that for the Latvian science to give an equivalent contribution to the national economy, the number of scientists should be, without delay, raised 1.5-2.5 times. It must be noted that the state budget doesn’t envisage any increase of the number of doctoral students in the next two years, although in 2000 only 22 persons in Latvia received the degree of a doctor (meanwhile 200-300 such persons per year are needed).

Catastrophic deficiency of highly qualified scientists is not only hindering us in renovating the teaching staff at higher education establishments, but also makes it impossible to fulfil the scientifically-technological projects, which are urgently needed for rapid up-to-date development of the national economy (to GDP raising), and for attracting foreign  investments.

  Table 2

DISTRIBUTION OF FUNDAMENTAL AND APPLIED RESEARCH PROJECTS AMONG SCIENTIFIC BRANCHES (2001)


 

 

N

 

Branch

% from the total financing

 

Number of projects

Financing for 2001, Ls

Average

sum for a project,

Ls  

1.

Informatics

 

5.58

46

188 524

4 098

2.

Mechanics, mechanical engineering, energetics

 

7.51

62

251 499

4 056

3.

Physics, mathematics, astronomy

 

13.08

89

441 996

4 966

4.

Chemistry

 

10.20

65

344 540

5 301

5.

Scientifically-technological foundation of chemistry, materials, pharmacy

4.66

33

157 436

4 771  

6.

Biology, environment science, hydro engineering, earth science

  9.73

  72

328 963

  4 569  

7.

Molecular biology, microbiology, biotechnology, virusology

  7.22

  39

243 943

6 255  

8.

Medicine

 

10.37

100

350 488

3 505

9.

 

Agricultural science

10.89

45

368 060

8 179

10.

 

History (culture history incl.)

 

 3.03

 

14

 

102 423

 

7 316

 

11.

Linguistics, literature science, folklore study, art science

   3.93

  28

 132 869

  4 745  

12.

Philosophy, sociology, psychology, pedagogy

  6.14

  55

207 312

3 769  

13.

Economics, juridical science

  5.85

33

  197 715

5 991  

14.

 

Cilviculture

1.81

14

61 197

4 371

 

                                                   

Total:

 

          100 %

 

695

 

3 376 965

 

4 859

 


Table 3

DISTRIBUTION OF FINANCING OF FUNDAMENTAL AND APPLIED RESEARCH PROJECTS AMONG SCIENTIFIC BRANCHES

 

Branch

2000

2001

Number of grants

Financing,

Ls

Number of grants

Financing, Ls

 

1.

 

Informatics

 

47

189 215

46

188 524

2..

 
Mechanics, mechanical engineering, energetics

 

56

254 667

62

251 499

3.

 

Physics, mathematics, astronomy

 

91

443 621

89

441 996

4.

Chemistry

56

345 835

65

344 540

5.

 

Scientifically-technological foundation of chemistry, materials, pharmacy

26

158 008

33

 

157 436  

6.

Biology, environment science, hydro engineering, earth science

72

330 166

72

328 963  

7.

Molecular biology, microbiology, biotechnology, virusology

28

244 842

39

243 9

8.



 

Medicine

 

74

351 801

100

350 488

9.

Agricultural science  

50

369 411

45

368 060

10.

 

History (culture history incl.)  

 

9

102 788

14

102 42

11.

 

Linguistics, literature science, folklore study, art science

25

133 371

28

 

132 869  

12.

Philosophy, sociology, psychology, pedagogy

50

208 079

55

207 312  

13.

Economics, juridical science

23

198 440

33

197 715  

14.

Cilviculture

19

61 430

14

61 197  

 

Total:

626

3 391 674

695

3 376 965

 

Joint projects (programmes)

 

1 402 585

 

1 417 294

 

Total:

 

4 794 259

 

4 794 259

 


Table 4

THE NUMBER OF SCIENTISTS PER 10000 RESIDENTS

 

             Latvia 1998 18.6
             Estonia 1998 34.8
             Lithuania 1998 24.0
             Hungary 1995 26.0
             Poland 1995 29.0
             Denmark 1995 57.0
             Finland 1995 67.0
             Sweden 1995 78.0
             EU 1995 49.0
     

Source: The yearly statistics books of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia; OECD (1998)  

  CONCLUSIONS

1.      The current scientific potential in Latvia is not sufficient to ensure the ever increasing demand for the quality of higher education and specialists engaged in fulfilment of appearing scientific and technological projects (international included). At present in Latvia there are about 2000 efficiently working scientists. It is imperative to work out and realise a programme for scientific and academic staff renovation.

2.      The state budget deficiency and lack of investments have led the infrastructure of the Latvian science to the critical point, beyond which irreversible degradation of many scientific branches as well as outflow of specialists to other countries has to be expected. Already now about 1000 scientists from Latvia are working abroad (the damage is estimated at 100 mil USD). It is imperative to work out and realise the national concept of higher education and science development.

3.      The Latvian science possesses considerable experience in attracting extra-budget finances from EU and other sources, partly using financial sources of the state budget. At present, the Latvian scientists participating in EU.5 scientific programmes ensure almost twofold back-paying as compared to the participation expenses of the state; in a number of scientific institutions the taxes that have been paid exceed the financing from the state budget; in other words, many of the scientific branches could be profitable provided there existed a national strategy of innovation activities.

   

References

1.      I.Dagyte, J.Kristapsons, H.Martinson. Baltic R&D System in Transition. -  Stockholm: Södertörns Höghskola, 2000, 190 p.

2.      Data of the Latvian Council of Science (http://lzp.lv/latv/, 5.03.2001).

3.      Report on the Development of Economy of Latvia. Ministry of Economy of the Republic of Latvia. Riga, December 2000.

4.    Latvia: from Vision to Action. A Concept for Sustainable Development. (http://www2.acadlib.lv/grey/valstsparvalde.htm#koncepcija, 8.03.2001).

5.      The Council of Higher Education. Self-evaluation, June 1996 - May 2000. (http://www.aip.lv/atskaite.htm, 8.03.2001).

 

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