Dr Srđan Verbić, Minister of Education, Science and Technological Development:

Education and Science as the Basis for Serbia’s Development

Systems in which more than ninety per cent of money is spent on staff salaries inevitably become conservative, regardless of how bright they were in their previous history. In Serbia this applies to both educational and scientific research systems

Srdjan Verbic

Budget cuts always first reflect on activities, and only then on earnings. The way out of such a situation is to create an environment in which small but effective changes are always welcome. There is no reason to set the changing of the entire system as an imperative. Small and sustainable steps are very important, primarily in the field of motivation, which turns out to be the most difficult burden of change in our country. With modest resources, it is not possible to make major organisational or technological breakthroughs, but society needs them, and those small innovations, step by step, improve the quality of life.

The application of science is not a task only for researchers. On the contrary, the appliance of science is a job for engineers and specialists of various kinds, as well as all those who notice that their current practice is not perfect and that there is enough space for innovation. Applying science to production is not as simple as it was a few decades ago.

Globalisation and mass production have ensured that the kind of expertise that a regular school can provide is no longer sufficient for the transfer of knowledge from science to the economy to be efficient. In order to link science and the economy successfully, it is necessary – apart from continuous learning – for all levels of knowledge transfer to be completed well and for competent people to have enough ideas and scientific results, for there to be innovators who will turn some of these ideas into tools to solve specific problems, for there to be investors who will invest in good innovation, for there to be engineers who will develop mass production and, finally, for there to be those who will find a place for a new product on an often already saturated market. This is indeed a great task, and thus innovations originating directly from scientific laboratories, which result in mass production, are rare outside the narrow circle of the most developed countries.

How closely linked science and the economy are can best be seen in the degree to which the economy is devoted to financing scientific research. There is no doubt that the private sector will invest in what will be profitable and will turn a profit in the foreseeable future. If no such interest exists, pressure exerted by the state to merge the incompatible will not help much. Of course, if interest exists at least in trace amounts, the state should be a catalyst for connections and primarily for all adequate financial instruments to assist in this cooperation.

When the 2016-2020 Strategy for the Scientific and Technological Development of the Republic of Serbia was undergoing public debate, one of the most painful issues for established and quite successful researchers was orientation towards innovation

When it comes to innovations that are more related to services than tangible products, the gap between academic knowledge and the successful application of such knowledge to real world challenges is generally not so great. Not so many links are required in the chain of knowledge application if recycling old clothes is identified as an innovation that simultaneously solves the ecological problem and employs people. We today require innovation of this kind in many fields, e.g. innovations concerning the reduction of social disparities, securing the population’s health, youth employment, care for the elderly etc. These do not need to be innovations that we have come up with here in Serbia. It is sufficient to implement something that someone else is already working. Unfortunately, this is not always easy due to the specific legal framework. In any case, it is necessary to develop a culture of innovation, which implies supporting small effective solutions rather than that being left to the grace of administrations that will always find a reason to say no.

Innovations don’t necessarily have to have a commercial effect. Many innovations do not bring any sort of profit, but they do increase the quality of life of citizens. These are social innovations. They bring new effective, efficient, equitable and sustainable solutions for well-known social problems. Value that is created in this way is more visible at the level of the macro-scale society than at the individual level, and therefore it does not make sense to measure the value of such innovation relative to their financial effects.

When the 2016-2020 Strategy for the Scientific and Technological Development of the Republic of Serbia was undergoing public debate, one of the most painful issues for established and quite successful researchers was orientation towards innovation. It appeared, at the very least, as though scientists were defending themselves from innovation as a monster that could destroy basic research which, according to many, is the intrinsic value of our science. I am sure that the essence of this opposition was primarily in a misunderstanding of the term innovation. This is something for which we all need to have a lot of understanding. Nobody really expects scientists to become entrepreneurs and to figure out how to earn money, and then to deal with that. That is not their job. It is only important that they communicate with the rest of the world. Now science has to show why it is relevant to the society in which it develops.