Research in Slovakia is undergoing a major reform these days. To explain, Slovakia is lagging behind the average on the European Innovation Scoreboard, which comes out every year. The critical components related to innovation score low in international in the categories of scientific co-publications, foreign doctoral students, or most cited publications.
The post-pandemic Recovery and Resilience Plan, from which EUR 6.4 billion are allocated to Slovakia, was directly connected to an efficient increase in funding research and innovation and investing in attracting and maintaining talent. The government decided to earmark EUR 670 million to achieve these objectives. A special office called the Research and Innovation Authority was founded to oversee and coordinate the enactment of this change.
However, when reading the Slovak Recovery and Resilience Plan, which specifies how the allocated billions are to be used, there is no mention of a scheme of support for Ukrainian researchers. This is because the scheme was drafted and approved in 2022 after the plan was approved, not long after the war in Ukraine started. A total of EUR 15 million was set aside, and the scheme was made available to all those fleeing the war in Ukraine.
“This call is meant for qualified people from abroad who have the potential to enrich the Slovak research setting. It is not humanitarian aid as Slovakia needs leading researchers but has a long-lasting problem in attracting talent and internationalizing research and education. Researchers affected by the war in Ukraine will, also thanks to this scheme, gain work stability for several years,” said the chief innovation officer upon the launching of the scheme.
Combining both the support for Ukrainian researchers and ensuring the increase in the overall quality of the Slovak research did not remain without challenges. On the one hand, the conditions for eligibility were made wide, encompassing doctoral students all the way up to established professors. On the other hand, the criteria were strict. Once the universities accepted the researcher preliminarily, their past research was scanned in detail as their citations and publications had to fulfill the normative standards of research quality. This means that they had to be published in the two most prestigious indexed journals of the Web of Science or SCOPUS.
Other externalities that put pressure on the process were the development of the war in Ukraine, mobilization in the country, which limited those who could cross the border, and problems verifying the compliance of applicants with the conditions set forth. Researchers were supported both individually as well as collectively if they applied as a consortium or research group. The application period lasted until the end of 2022. Since then, some researchers came together in an event organized by the College of Economy and Management in Bratislava, which was to promote the stipend scheme. Otherwise, the researchers may be found in many Slovak higher education institutions as researchers, lecturers, and professors.
Today, a total of 118 researchers are currently undergoing research in academic disciplines ranging from linguistics to computer science. The benefit is two-fold: Slovak research is one step closer to reforming and improving its academic ecosystem, and the researchers can fluently continue working on their original focus. This example is not the only support scheme but combines these objectives in a rather unique way. It is to be seen what innovations come out of it.