A group of academics and researchers from the Western Balkans have called on the President of the European Commission, the Directorate for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Relations, the Regional Cooperation Council, EU Delegations to WB countries, and the Ministers of Education for several states, to establish a Western Balkan Research Foundation.
In light of the varying levels of progress in each country’s accession to the EU, the signatories state that higher education and quality research could significantly enable sustainable development. There is a gap between the WB and EU states and in order to narrow it, an active approach to tackle the complex outstanding issues is required.
“Quality research is neither a luxury nor an enterprise limited to the academic world, it is necessary for evidence-based decision-making,” they wrote, adding that limited research capabilities in the region are hindering the quality of higher education and the development of knowledge-intensive sectors.
At this stage of EU approximation and the opening of the WB economies, the need for evidence-based policy-making is more important than ever. The signatories add that these policies will have a direct impact on public sector performance, how EU funds are used, and the competitiveness of the private sector.
In 2016, at the Paris Western Balkan Summit, the research community launched the Western Balkan Research Foundation (WBRF). Its aim was to enable outstanding young scientists from the region to establish excellent labs and teams within a five-year period through the use of grants.
Although the idea of the Foundation has received much support and approval over the subsequent years, the initiative is yet to become a reality.
“Ever since these strong commitments, there have been high expectations in the WBCs research communities that sooner rather than later, the vacuum of support for research would be substantially addressed thanks also to substantial European support. Although this is the fifth year since the WBRF was launched, to the disappointment of the researcher community in the region, particularly young researchers, that initiative still appears to be far from becoming a reality.”
The signatories state that the hopes of young scholars who dreamed of working on the WBRF are vanishing. They add that the inability of the Foundation to come into existence risks being perceived as a “lack of commitment from the EU to the WBs and will not be able to help with stopping ongoing brain drain.”
They call on the EU and Member States to accelerate the establishment of the Foundation in order to support evidence-based policymaking, smart growth, and an attempt to halt the mass exodus of ambitious and educated individuals from WB countries.
“Time to live up to the commitments undertaken,” they concluded.