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Polish Academy of Sciences Seeks Reform, Funding Boost

SCIENCEPolish Academy of Sciences Seeks Reform, Funding Boost

“Last year as much as 40% of the salaries in the institutes of the Polish Academy of Sciences (PAN) were below the minimum wage, and it was difficult for us to convince young people that the path of scientific development is what they should pursue in life,” says PAN President Prof. Marek Konarzewski. He points out that the amount of 180 million PLN budgeted for this year will barely compensate for the increased cost of maintaining the research potential of the academies’ institutes. To continue with the further development of PAN, discussions about the funding, as well as organisational changes in the academy must resume. Minister of Science and Higher Education Dariusz Wieczorek has already announced the reform of PAN.

“The Polish Academy of Sciences needs to be reformed for many reasons. The primary expectation is the increased cooperation among its structures. The Academy is comprised of two main pillars. The first is a corporation made up of 350 scientists, selected in a very competitive manner – they form the elite of Polish science, as only one in approximately 100 professors is granted the honor of joining the academy. The second pillar comprises of 70 Polish Academy of Sciences scientific institutes. We are very keen to ensure that the reforms enhance the visibility and positioning of the academy in the world of science – not only domestically, but above all abroad,” says Prof. Marek Konarzewski to Newseria Biznes.

The draft of PAN’s new Act, conceived in the academy, was forwarded to the Ministry of Education and Science in March 2023. An alternative reform was proposed by an ex-minister Przemysław Czarnek’s working group, but as none of the two proposed draft bills have been submitted to the Sejm. Following December’s government reshuffle, the topic of reforming PAN resurfaced once again – it was revived by the Minister of Science and Higher Education Dariusz Wieczorek, who met with the Presidium of the Polish Academy of Sciences last week.

“-For us, it was a historic event, because for the first time in at least eight years, a constitutional minister responsible for science has participated in a presidium meeting,” emphasizes the president of PAN. “The Minister has assured us that the processing of the Polish Academy of Sciences Act will be a priority for him and that it will take place this year. This was extremely important for us, as it shows that by the end of this year, we hope we will have a new act and will proceed with further reforms of the academy before it.”

Broad consultations with groups affiliated with PAN are set to take place before this. The fundamental changes proposed to the structure of the Polish Academy of Sciences primarily involve the Academy Assembly, which is the highest body, being joined by not only corporation members, i.e., members of PAN, but also directors of PAN institutes. This extended circle would collectively elect the academy’s president. Previously, the president was selected solely by the votes of the corporations, and therefore this second, very important pillar was not represented in the election of its leadership – says Prof. Marek Konarzewski. “On the other hand, we are very keen to broaden the competences of the corporate part of the academy. Our members, in such a way that they can directly influence the substantive, scientific assessment of the institutes and that this would be a binding assessment. Currently, we are at a point where we are formulating recommendations regarding the institutes. These can be accepted, but they do not have to be accepted by the boards of these entities. According to our draft, these recommendations would be binding.”

The reform of the Polish Academy of Sciences aims to order its organization and internal structures, as well as making it possible to acquire more funding in proportion to the scientific potential of PAN institutes. This reform is also one of the milestones, the completion of which will enable the academy to acquire funds from the National Reconstruction Plan. Under the current law, the academy and part of its units are not eligible to apply for EU and national projects.

When it comes to finances, there have also been other declarations. The Ministry of National Education and Science has announced an increase in the funding of PAN institutes by PLN 180 million. The president of this institution emphasizes that these funds will be used to cover the rising costs of maintaining the research capacity of the institutes.

“Last year was dramatic in this respect, as the costs of utilities, the operation of scientific equipment rose sharply, and in many institutes, especially those experimental ones, this equipment had to be turned off. This is a direct route to halting scientific research, and then the very functioning of the institutes becomes questionable,” warns the President of the Polish Academy of Sciences. “However, let’s make it clear that PLN 180 million is a lifesaving amount that will simply keep us from further restricting our activities. Yet we should be talking about development. To achieve this development, we will unfortunately have to return to the discussion about financing, as the amounts that will make this possible are much higher than 180 million PLN.”

The announcement of a 30% increase in salaries for scientific staff and a 20% increase for non-scientific staff is also important for PAN and its institutes. These pay rises have been included in this year’s budget and are to be effected as of January 1st. In the judgment of the president of PAN, it is also one step in the right direction to improve what is not the best staffing situation.

“Last year, as much as 40% of salaries at PAN institutes were below the minimum wage. This was mainly due to the fact that due to limited funding, wage growth was lagging behind the increase in the minimum wage. We simply did not have enough money to bridge the difference between what we could offer and what the regulations imposed on us, even though I have spoken about this situation many times with the former management of the Ministry of Education and Science,” says Prof. Marek Konarzewski. “In this situation, it was difficult to convince young people that the path of scientific development is what they should be doing in life. We hope that the regulations and the expected increase in wages this year will alleviate this situation for some time and that young people will perceive working in PAN institutes as an attractive career path that will keep them in science. As a result, we will be able to maintain the intellectual and expert potential of our community and contribute to the development of our country.”

The robust research network in the country operates as part of the PAN, composed of 70 institutes. They carry out projects in almost all fields of science, create inventions and patents, and are a showcase of Polish science. More than 9.5 thousand people work in them, including almost 4.3 thousand researchers. Eight Dioscuri Centers of Scientific Excellence also operate within the framework of the PAN institutes – these are international research groups supported by the Max Planck Society in Germany.

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