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With the independence of the Republic of Slovenia, the Slovenian natural sciences gained a new impetus; new international paths opened up for them. Many achievements have been accomplished over these 30 years, but they should be linked more effectively to the economy, and a greater flow of staff between scientific institutions is needed.

At the time of independence, the vast majority of Slovenian scientists defined themselves as supporters of an independent Slovenia, says Prof. Dr. Ludvik Toplak. Opportunities for research work and international integration have opened up, but Slovenian scientific institutions have remained too closed and focused on themselves after independence. As Slovenian state scientific institutions were financed by the state, they mostly competed for state money, but they were not stimulated for development in cooperation with the economy, nor prepared for international competition. According to Toplak, in 1993, the state administration abolished or reduced the tax relief for investments in the development of the economy, on top of companies having already lost development research centres in 1987.

Honorary Prof. Dr. Ludvik Toplak, Vice-Chancellor of the Alma Mater Europaea University of the European Academy of Sciences and Arts (EASA) in Salzburg. (Photo: Nebojša Tejić / STA)

Thus, development became completely dependent on the state budget and limited to state institutions, and companies lacking their own development schemes were no longer competitive when the market liberalized after 1990. This is one of the reasons why large Slovenian business and technological systems have fallen out of global competition. Small private research organizations have been unable to replace discontinued development centres and keep up with the development needs of the economy. The idea of ​​young researchers was very good, but unfortunately the system was reduced to the particular interests of public institutions that hire young researchers until they complete their doctorate at the expense of taxpayers, then leave them to the market after the doctorate, so many of them go abroad to earn a living.

Opening up to the world

Prof. Dr. Leon Cizelj, Head of the Department of Reactor Engineering at the JSI and Full Professor of Nuclear Engineering at the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics, University of Ljubljana. (Photo: Institut Jozef Stefan)

Meanwhile, Dr. Leon Cizelj says that independence has triggered a distinct opening of Slovenian science to the world. He is convinced that in a few years we have successfully adapted to competing on the international market of ideas and publishing our findings in world scientific journals. At the same time, we in Slovenian society quickly lost the feeling that science is what we need. Later, the opening to the world stopped, and the openness of Slovenian science to the arrival of foreign researchers and higher education professors decreased. There are slightly more foreigners among postgraduate students, but not enough to replace the “Slovenian brain drain”, i.e. students going abroad.

The greatest achievements

Dr. Ludvik Toplak is convinced that the greatest scientific achievements are those that are useful, which are usually evidenced over time. Among the most important achievements are the lithium batteries of the Institute of Chemistry. Slovenian universities and the Jožef Stefan Institute have also accomplished many other achievements. Natural sciences are objectively measurable in the field of theoretical work through international publications and citations, but the question is who actually uses the results of theoretical research and international publications. In any case, it is important, says Toplak, that our researchers from institutes, clinics, the economy and universities get involved in current international development projects.

In addition to other accomplishments, Dr. Leon Cizelj stressed the development of simulation methods as his most important personal research achievement, with which we assessed the degree of damage and the safety of evaporators in nuclear power plants around the world including in Krško in the 1990s. Among the most important achievements of his research team are the development of pioneering simulations of the formation of  intercrystalline cracks in metals, coupled simulations of heat and mass transfer in turbulent fluids and simulations of steam explosions in the contact of molten metal with water, as well as an analysis of the control of a nuclear power plant during a possible military attack.

Opportunities for science

According to Dr. Ludvik Toplak, science should be concretely privatised and depoliticised, competition should be liberalised, as open competition is the only lever and stimulus of quality and relevance in fundamental and applied science. State institutes and universities need to be freed from bureaucratic shackles and encouraged to enter the international knowledge market. The value of science and higher education is reflected in how it serves the economy and taxpayers, and the relevance of education is measured by the useful employability of graduates, who contribute to the development of material and the social and cultural well-being of the nation, emphasizes Dr. Toplak. Young researchers need to be recruited at home or invited to return to their homeland with new knowledge and experience and make a life for themselves here. With tax breaks for economic operators investing in development, the economy itself will take care of research and development. Also, Dr. Cizelj says that the curiosity and international involvement of Slovenian science must be further strengthened, as well as the need for one’s own knowledge and research. The latter would also significantly encourage a greater flow of staff between research institutions, industry and professional support to the state.

By: Lucija Kavčič

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