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Researchers warn prime minister of collapse of Estonia's research system

A sign at a 2018 protest reads
A sign at a 2018 protest reads "What is EDUCATION without RESEARCH?" Source: Sander Koit/ERR

The Estonian Young Academy of Sciences (EYAS) , the Estonian Chamber of Research and the Council of Academic Trade Unions have published a public appeal to Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Centre) calling for immediate action to change the situation in which declining financing is not sustaining Estonia's research system any longer, daily Postimees wrote.

"The financing of Estonian research in the state budget has decreased to approximately 0.5% of the GDP, which will soon make it impossible to keep the research system going," it stands in the published letter.

"The Estonian research system is effectively on the brink of collapse and the situation requires immediate interference," it continued. "Attention was recently drawn to the success story of Estonian research and the danger of its collapse in the top science magazine Nature (Schiermeier, Q. 2019. "How Estonia blazed a trail in science". Nature 565: 416-418)."

In order to address the aforementioned problems, a societal agreement was concluded in December to increase the financing of research in Estonia to 1% of the GDP. "Representative bodies of researchers have subsequently discussed how to use the research funding that may potentially be added in the most appropriate and effective manner," the appeal stated.

The three organisations also point out that the wage gap between top specialists in the public and private sectors, respectively, has grown so large that if no substantial changes are made, Estonia will soon be left without its own research community.

"Salaries at universities have already dropped below those of teachers in general education schools," the letter highlights. "There is a chronic shortage of teachers and doctors in society, and the researchers who teach them will soon disappear as well. After that, the Estonian economy will move further away from a smart economy, which is exactly the opposite to what is desired."

The public appeal also draws attention to the reduction of the number of researchers in Estonia, from 2015-2019, the number of academic employees at the country's public universities dropped to 8% . The number of researchers in proportion to the Estonian population is also three to four times smaller than in developed countries, and the country has begun moving away from those that it considers examples to follow.

"It is obvious that there are not too many researchers in Estonia, especially if we want our country to be research-based and innovative," the petitions reads. "Estonia is the only country in the EU lacking, for instance, a sustainable research career system (known as 'tenure'), which would motivate young people to decide in favour of a career in research. It is currently being established, but it must be accompanied by sufficient financing as well."

Editor: Aili Vahtla

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