Despite the advances in modernization and capacity building of the research landscapes of the Western Balkans Countries’ universities, management of the human resources in research and science is still lagging behind the level of the practices and standards of the EU universities. The national funding of science in the WB countries is far below the ERA Lisbon targets, and it is project-oriented while the building of the universities’ capacities to effectively and efficiently deal with the non-scientific challenges is not sufficiently addressed by the national policies. Thus, the national funding for human resources development is very low in most of the cases. Individual universities are dealing with these challenges by participating in far more competitive European funding programmes, such as Horizon 2020 (especially Marie Sklodowska Curie actions), Erasmus+ and earlier, FP7.
Therefore, the key reasons for relatively low adoption of human research principles in the region and the need to enhance them constitute the main motivational factors for developing this proposal. The most difficult issue to address in the universities of the WB countries is a still obscure recruitment process, suffering from many problems, where the topmost priority should be given to resolving those related to the lack of transparency and corresponding low competitiveness as well as the lack of clear criteria for career advancement. The second critical issue, common for all countries in the region is a low quality of the researcher training, coming from the uncertain status of PhD researchers, very low level of professional development of transversal skills, lack of cooperation with industry and others. The above mentioned problems are recognized, both by the public and policy makers in the respective countries, but no significant systematic efforts in their resolution have started yet. Currently, for example, no national strategy in WB countries addresses explicitly the strategic need to comply with the Charter and Code principles. However, the issues of HR management are highly relevant for further development of the national research landscape in the WB countries. First, all national strategies highlight the importance of human resources in achieving the scientific excellence, aiming at compensating a relatively low level of development of the research infrastructure. Second, all WB countries are monitored by the European Commission in the framework of EU accession process, in the aspects of HR standards in research and other activities. Respective national chapters for research and science in negotiation with EC must report on the current development in the above mentioned aspects. Hence the high relevance of the HR standards in accession processes.
Concrete activities of the project hinge on the key elements and priorities identified in the Action Plan for the Strategy for the Development of Science and Technology. Although this Strategy was formulated in Serbia, it gives voice to the researchers in the WBC region generally, targeting weak points which bother all of us. Its key-action 3.1 ‘Development of human research potential and promotion of science’ is directly related to the objective of the project Enhancement of HE Research Potential Contributing to Further Growth of the WBC Region (Re@WBC). Many of its goals coincide with the goals of the Project:
- enhancing of human research potential and development of human resources;
- improving conditions for development of research and professional careers;
- developing support services for young and talented researchers;
- brain-gain through active participation in research activities;
- harmonisation of research space;
- regional cooperation through participation in the creation of the WBC regional science strategy;
- encouraging mobility.
Further, Action Plan for the Strategy of Higher Education also lists a number of key-actions reflecting the goals of Re@WBC:
- improvement of promotion criteria and procedures for researchers;
- development of support services for researchers;
- reinforcement of the research component of HE;
- enhancing of the innovative potential;
- increasing international openness of HE system;
- establishing international mobility of teachers, students and researchers;
- enhancing research capacities and excellence in research.
Finally, Action Plan for the Development of Education till 2020 contains some other key-activities relevant for Re@WBC:
- introduction of interdisciplinary engagement of researchers;
- reinforcement of the entrepreneurial component of HE;
- development of inter and intra-university networks;
- modernisation of management and business administration;
- acquiring competences in teaching methodology, pedagogy and didactics in HE.
All of these actions are integrated into the Workplan of Re@WBC grouped under different workpackages. In synergy with the principles of the EU strategy for researchers, these and other original activities aim at reaching the point where all partner universities have endorsed the principles of EU strategies for researchers and their employers; university bylaws relevant for HR offices and services have been adopted and implemented; researchers have been better qualified for professional development and regional cooperation. Indicators of progress will be numerous: at least 60 university administrative staff dealing with research services trained; at least 50% of researchers well-acquainted with this strategy; at least 18 existing university centres/offices reinforced; at least 9 trainings for researchers realised; at least 27 bylaws adopted at WBC universities; at least 9 Pilot mentoring systems implemented and 9 mentors trained; at least 5000 participants trained in different skills.