Nature, April 20, 2006

SIR — Your News story “Ukraine scientists grow impatient for change” (Nature 440, 132–133; 2006) touches on the situation and potential growth of scientific research in a single country, but the issues are relevant to all of the former Soviet bloc. The facts are sobering. Although the average gross national product per capita in these countries is only a few times lower than in the rest of Europe, the average university ranking is an order of magnitude poorer: in the latest Academic Ranking of World Universities, only 4 of the top 123 European universities are from the former Soviet bloc. Pumping extra money into the system would make little difference. As a member of the Independent Academic Forum (www.naukaedukacja.tubaza.pl) — a group of Polish scientists aiming to promote changes in higher education, leading to the US model — I believe the only real hope lies in creating a new generation of dynamic scientists to set the pace for academic life, which means supporting the best of the best. But much of the old guard, who attained their positions and influence under the old regime, are not up to the scientific challenges of today and resist any real change. I believe that what we need is transparency and competitiveness: transparent records of achievements, including full publication lists, and fair and open competition for academic positions. An academic ombudsman would facilitate open discussion, and special grants for young scientists could also help. Major political and legislative decisions are called for. The Independent Academic Forum is doing its best to press for such changes.

Witold F. Palosz
BAE Systems Analytical Solutions, NASA,
Marshall Space Flight Center, VP01, Huntsville,
Alabama 35812, USA

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