PRIVATE ENTREPRENEURS IN SCIENCE
Professor Dr.Sc. in philosophy Ivan Katzarski,
Institute for the Study of Societies and Knowledge,
I would like to pose an issue as strategically important as it is timely - the role of state and private business in the specific fields of research and higher education. In this regard, many open questions remain. One needs extensive scientometric studies that require time. But we do not have time; as often happens in our country, political decisions and actions go ahead of objective analysis and competent discussion.
Since quite some time the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences (BAS) is under fire by individuals, groups of people, and even institutions, that use for this purpose their enviable influence in many media, including state owned. Towards the end of 2009 the attacks against BAS started to become state policy. Preparation began for a surgery "with local anesthesia": the patient was placed in a starvation mode, and as a beginning a 10 million lv cut of the patient’s 2010 budget was considered a necessary and “healthy” measure. And this happened despite the findings of the audit of the European Science Foundation, which gave quite good assessment of most of the research units of BAS, at the same time explicitly stressing the shortage of state funds. In the middle of last year, the budget of the Academy was further dramatically slashed, with the result that the organization was forced to shrink its activity which affected also the performance in its international projects. In a state of increasing austerity during 2010 BAS conducted painful reforms, which however did not appease the government.
The next crucial step was undertaken: the draft for a new Law on BAS, submitted to the National Assembly by the ruling political party GERB (CEDB - Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria) was to open the path to the conceived surgery, which would basically eliminate BAS as a national scientific institution. But today it is much clearer than a year ago: the process will not end up with that institution. After it comes the turn of state universities, with which the "business" is increasingly unhappy.
Changes in science and higher education are needed. But they have been started in a barbarian way - without respecting the opinions of the academic community (and even the European one!) and serving narrow but influential interest groups. Jubilant insolence is deaf to the usual academic tone and arguments - no matter how convincing they are. Maybe it will begin listening, if we start talking about some of its secrets.
The situation in science and higher education in Bulgaria is quite different compared to its economy: in contrast with the predominantly private economy, the scientific and educational institutions are to a large extent state-funded. This is particularly true for the field of natural sciences and engineering. In this area, research institutes and research centers that have a clear public image and prominence, are almost exclusively in the system of the Academy of Sciences, the Agricultural Academy and in various government structures. Private research organizations that have a clear profile are insignificant in number. Their presence in the global network is marginal - just names and addresses (as with many companies, those are often fictitious), without their own websites.
The picture is quite different in humanities and social sciences. Despite the predominance of state-financed organizations, and although here too there are private phantom organizations, the presence of privately funded institutes, centers and other NGO is significant. They have strong positions in the media, political and administrative structures. They are present in the public space practically daily and to a much greater extent than government research organizations.
There are already many private universities. The same trend is observed for them - the courses that are covered are almost entirely in social sciences and humanities. The most strongly represented are economic sciences, public administration, law, history, sociology, English language. Courses in anthropology, theater and other arts, in evangelical theology also appear. Private fine arts schools name themselves ''universities”, although they do not offer training in basic natural sciences (physical, chemical, biological) and technology.
It is worth pondering over the paradox: private economy - almost entirely public funding of research and training in natural sciences and engineering. The pretensions of the business to science and education are increasing and becoming more intrusive. But why it has refused to shoulder its own scientific and technological development? Why there are no private technology institutes and universities? Why a partnership between the Bulgarian science and education, on the one hand, and Bulgarian business on the other has not been developed? Obviously bold claims are combined with impotence.
As already noted, private investments have a significant share in social sciences and humanities and the institutions supported by them are active in public and state structures. In fact those private research institutes, centers and universities were established almost entirely by foreign funding.
Why private investments in science and education have shifted in such area which in itself seems to promise too little opportunity for profit? Given that the biggest financial impact can be expected from technological innovation, one would expect more investments in research, that is most neglected in our country? In reality many private organizations are simply users of funds and the sponsors do not expect any direct financial return. What causes this strange "generosity"?
First, natural sciences and engineering require huge investments, while the needs of social sciences and humanities are quite modest in this respect. In the latter group of subjects a lot can be achieved with very little money.
Second, once created, some private organizations benefit also from the internal resources of Bulgaria : from state subsidies for training of students, from student fees, or state-funded projects. The importance of this factor increased especially after Bulgaria joined the European Union in 2007. Before that, Western foundations and other donors directly funded private organizations in social studies and education. After 2007 European funding through the Bulgarian government structures increased strongly. The interest in state distributed subsidies as well as in the control on distribution mechanisms increased. Naturally the attack against the "opponents", often publicly-financed organizations which were exhausted by lack of enough funding, intensified.
A third factor is the particular nature of the social sciences and humanities. They are directly related to visions, ideology and projects competing for determining the future of any society. What the future will be depends largely on the ideological attitudes of the dominant elites, on the system of ideas, values and norms in which the young generation is being educated as well as on the views on past, present and future, prevailing in the media and public life. Therefore, the social sciences and humanities have a strong, although not amenable to direct measurement, effect on society. What are the specifics of these sciences is vital, because they possess the hidden potential to legitimize political power and domination as well as to dethrone them. Stakes are particularly high in communities at the crossroads and in the process of deep reorganization, as Eastern European countries after the collapse of socialism. At stakes are not only the interests of internal national forces and groups, but also major geopolitical interests and projects.
But is there anything wrong more scientific and educational institutions to work in the field of social sciences and humanities in Bulgaria? In principle there is no objection to this. Moreover, one would assume that having more organizations might help a wider pluralism of theoretical perspectives and therefore could contribute to the ideological and cultural diversity in our society.
Precisely this assumption, however, proves groundless. Instead of ideological pluralism and diversity, private scientific and educational institutions massively impose one basic theoretical vision and ideological doctrine - the neo-liberalism.
Its position is well known in our country - not only in theory and propaganda, but as public policy: minimum state, the state withdraws from the regulation of the economy, low taxation of the rich, realized in its extreme form by introducing a flat tax, introduction of market mechanisms in science, education and culture with residual public financing of these sectors.
A distinguished and undisputable leader of market fundamentalism in our country is the Institute for Market Economics (IME). It defines its mission as: "... to develop and advocate market-based solutions to challenges that citizens of Bulgaria and the region face. This mission is pursued since 1993 .. "(http://ime.bg/bg/articles/misiq-i-celi-na-ipi). The ideal is "more economic and individual freedom" (http://ime.bg/bg/dareniya).
Apparently, according to IME the existence of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences is a major threat to economic and individual freedom. The Executive director of the Institute Svetla Kostadinova recommends privatization of much of the property of BAS, which will bring revenue and will reduce maintenance costs.
"The ultimate goal should be ... full dissolution of the BAS in its present form … the Academy of Sciences may continue to exist, only as an honorable institution whose purpose should be not doing science, but rather to be an intermediary between science, the private sector and society"
(Science or state money - we need to choose (IME, article of 9.10.2007).
A similar routing reading is the article by the trainee in IME Jordan Dzhambazov, "Are we obliged to sustain BAS?" (in the newspaper " Sega" of 18.11. 2009).
But who are these people? It is hard to find for them something like curricula vitae. It is known at least that the Executive director received her Master degree in Economics studies in 2005. But what a high self-esteem for a Master! Other members of the IME "team" show similar enviable insolence, although they are completely anonymous in academia.
Are these people crazy? Are they driven by sick mania when they write and speak? - No! These are individuals who very rationally calculate their actions. We can understand what is their "mission", when we answer the question: who stands behind them and whom they serve? But this - a little further.
On the second line after the team stands the so-called " editorial board ", people who "determine research topics and supervise the quality of publications of the IME". Its members are better-known names such as Georgi Stoev, Georgi Angelov, Krassen Stanchev, Lachezar Bogdanov, Georgi Ganev, etc.. All preach extreme economic liberalism and, of course, want everything to be offered for sale - health, science, education, culture. Three of them occupy key positions in other private "think tanks" - Open Society Institute and the Center for Liberal Strategies. Not to mention countless intrusive appearances of these people in the most influential media!
Such massive aggressive irradiation of society is a threat to pluralism of ideas: an extreme doctrine is about to become unofficially - an official state ideology. "So what?" - would respond the market fundamentalists, apologists of Social Darwinism. ”Influential and powerful are those who have proven to be effective”.
But let us try to understand why are the team and other staff of the IME with such high self-esteem? Why do they have so much influence in society and in the media? Whether science or something else is their mainstay and stronghold? To a large extent we can answer these questions when we know who manages the IME.
The Institute is guided by an impressive Board (http://ime.bg/bg/articles/syvet-na-ipi). One of its members is ex-Deputy Governor of the Bulgarian National Bank, and the rest are personally involved in large private companies. Particularly strongly represented are the private bankers.
So suddenly we found ourselves in the wonderful world of the big private business. What is IME? - Scientific organization or a tool of the big corporate capital - or at least of part of it? Its commitment can easily be read in its projects, lobbying, publications. In this regard one can tell many interesting things, but here I cannot dwell more on this.
IME-zation of Bulgarian science - is this the future that awaits us?
The merchants are already in the temple. But this is not enough for them. The dealers want also a priestly rank and garments for themselves. Are there forces in the Bulgarian society to tackle this scourge?
Neoliberals and libertarians are not our patent. Neo-liberalism even today has a dominant position in the West and globally, although the crisis has tamed and silenced many of them. In Western societies, however, there are always strong enough forces to counteract the pressure of market fundamentalism. Conversely, in our country the miring in the crisis makes the defenders of market fundamentalism even more diligent and insolent. Attacked furiously, the academic community seems frightened and divided. But let us hope that its resistance is not completely gone.
It would be good if also the politicians hear at least some part of this. They, especially the government, appear to have sided with the liquidators. Some of them will benefit from the partisan "reform" of science and education, but the nationally responsible politicians should not be among them. Not only will ratings and credibility fall. The rulers will require professional expertise, but there will be no one to provide it to them - at least in Bulgaria. Moreover, the worldwide market fundamentalists themselves have a negative perception of politicians and politics. According to one of ours, Krassen Stanchev, "politics is a competitor of economy and . .. is a form of robbery" (Business Magazine of 18.11.2007). For promoters of unrestricted market the best politicians are those who obediently follow the orders of business.
The rout over science and education, which is already underway, will be a blow to the whole Bulgarian society. It will cause even greater imbalance between business, politics and culture, which is already seriously undermined to the detriment of culture. Hopefully, gathering and uniting our last forces, we can prevent this, because the moment is crucial and no return is possible.
PS. This is an extended and updated version of an article published (in Bulgarian) in the newspaper Duma of 4.2.2010.