Romania’s STEM Fields in Flux as Research Funding Rules Change

Academics in Romania are up in arms as scientists are protesting against the government's new reforms to slash science research funding, according to Alison Abbott of Nature.

The government "slashed research funding and unpicked the reforms, eliminating rules designed to establish a meritocracy." Hundreds of scientists are demanding the government to restore the research budget and quality control. In April, scientists took to the streets in protest and more than 900 signed a petition addressed to Prime Minister Victor Ponta.

The entire National Research Council, which is the main research-funding agency in Romania, resigned in protest. Scientists are blaming research and education minister Ecaterina Andronescu for the new reforms, which they say derail the nation's research ambitions in an increasingly-competitive global mark. "With no compromise from the government and the council seats still unfilled, Romanian science is adrift. Scientists are resigned to treading water, in the hope that the tide will turn."

Developmental biologist Ovidiu Sirbu, who returned home after 11 years and established himself at the Victor BabeÅŸ University of Medicine and Pharmacy in TimiÅŸoara in 2012, is unhappy with the situation.

"With a fair granting system [by a former government], I was sure that I could do my research just as well in Romania as in Germany," said Ovidiu Sirbu. "But what happened was really disappointing."

During the political chaos that followed the collapse of communism in 1989, many of Romania's best researchers left the country. In 2011, the government passed a law designed to improve standards in education and science.

"The law was crafted with rules and regulations to break through local power networks and ensure that funding and academic positions would go to the best people — for example by requiring grant applications to be reviewed by foreign experts, and by instituting minimum qualifications for job candidates. Also, the research budget was boosted by nearly half. But that government fell last year."

Andronescu, who took the post last July, was research and education minister in two previous governments and was rector at the Polytechnic University of Bucharest until she stepped down under Funeriu's conflict-of-interest rules, which "forbade rectors from being politicians, in a bid to stop academics using political positions to help cronies."

During her last days in office, Andronescu overhauled Funeriu's regulations using three legal tools — including an ‘emergency ordinance' with a purpose, she declared, to make standards attainable to more people. This decree is currently being discussed in parliament.

Under the latest rules, university rectors can once more be members of parliament, and academics over the retirement age of 65, including Andronescu herself, can hold leadership positions at universities — previously banned to stop people holding on to power for too long.

In addition, Andronescu abolished the requirement that professors pass a special exam and loosened Funeriu's minimum criteria for holding an academic post.

09 3, 2013
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