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AAAS Internship Helps Strengthen
Science Policy in Eastern Europe
The funding of research and development efforts is often overlooked when a nation faces the difficult task of restructuring after political upheaval. The countries of Central and Eastern Europe, many of which have long and proud scientific traditions, have been facing this problem for the past decade and are lagging behind other developed nations in their R&D investment, creating long-term effects that they may be hard-pressed to overcome.
In one of its efforts to help strengthen the scientific enterprise in the region, AAAS invites interns such as Fatos Dega from Albania to study science and technology policy at the Association's offices in Washington, DC. Dega, who received funding from the NATO Program in Science and Technology Policy and Organization, will have the opportunity to gain practical training and experience in a number of policy activities, including the R&D Budget and Policy Program; the Research Competitiveness Program; the Program on Scientific Freedom, Responsibility, and Law; and the Center for S&T and Congress.
Dega wants to see science policy move forward, modeled on a Western model instead of Soviet isolationism. "For many years, Albania was an extremely centralized economy," he says. "The science system could not progress rapidly and steadily and (so) achieve international standards."
Al Teich, who heads the Directorate for Science & Policy Programs at AAAS and is co-director of the Center for Innovation Policy Research and Education for Central and Eastern Europe (CIPRE), believes that encouraging international collaboration will strengthen science and technology policies in Central and Eastern Europe.
"CIPRE is helping to build a network of science policy experts in the former socialist countries of Central and Eastern Europe. Providing people like Fatos Dega from Albania and Rossitsa Chobanova from Bulgaria, who spent several months at AAAS earlier this year, with the opportunity to see U.S. science policy close-up is a key part of our long-term plan," says Teich.
Dega has a long history of working in science in Albania. He received his PhD in engineering at the Polytechnic University of Tirana, and went on to head the R&D Programmes Division in the Directorate of Scientific Research at the Ministry of Education and Science of Albania. He has also been a member of the Science and Technology Policy Panel of the NATO Science Committee in Brussels, and the executive director of the Albanian Society of Mechanical Engineers.
Dega characterizes the Albanian science system of ten years ago as "led by inappropriate policy-making institutions," poorly funded and with few resources dedicated toward education and training of scientists.
The current system has improved since 1991, Dega says. "Albania changed definitely the regime and entered into the road of democracy." But he noted that science policy is still characterized by a lack of strategic development, legislation, priority-setting, and funding for education and research.
This has led to, among other things, a "brain drain," with scientists leaving Albania for opportunities abroad, or leaving science altogether for the private sector. As Dega wrote in an article published in the Albanian Journal of Natural and Technical Sciences in September 2000, "During the last decade, more than 1000 of about 1600 university teachers have left the higher education system." This was caused in part, he says, by a "lack of clear view for the future of the science and technology system."
Dega hopes to take back to Albania an understanding of what needs to be done to begin to rebuild his country's commitment to science policy and education. He believes AAAS is an ideal place for him to witness, first-hand, "the contribution that civil society can provide to the development of science."
22 October 2002