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University will pay for scientists from abroad in order to correct state's error

They will be paid from university reserves. MU will negotiate with ministry about compensation.

Masaryk University is prepared to dip into its own reserves to pay for scientists from abroad whose relocation to Brno was originally due to be funded by Research and Development for Innovations, an EU Operational Programme.

Two of the university's projects worth almost 140 million crowns were successful in a Ministry of Education international evaluation, and preliminary interviews were conducted with scientists from abroad. Then, at the last moment and owing to a shortage of funds, the Ministry withdrew the invitation to apply for funding. The cancellation of almost a billion crowns' worth of funding has provoked a very negative reaction from academics in the Czech Republic and abroad.

“By honest efforts over many years Masaryk University has built up credibility in the international academic community," says Mikuláš Bek, Rector of Masaryk University. “It cannot afford to lose this credibility simply because the Czech state is incapable of managing structural funds, thus causing an international scandal by its actions." He is adamant in his intention neither to lose scientists prepared to leave their posts at prestigious universities abroad nor to write off the great amount of work invested in the preparation of the projects through the fault of the Ministry, which in the days of Jiří Rusnok's caretaker government invited applications for funding without providing for adequate resources.

“We are prepared to draw on our reserves in order to meet temporarily the essential costs of both projects," the Rector explains. “We will hold further talks with the Ministry concerning subsequent compensation within the structural funds framework. At our first meeting with Minister Chládek, several paths were outlined that might lead to a solution."

Irena Štěpaníková, who has worked at universities in the United States for the past fourteen years, was due to return to the Czech Republic to lead a team of sixteen scientists at the Faculty of Science's Research Centre for Toxic Compounds in the Environment (RECETOX) in a study of factors affecting human health. Her return was to be provided for by the Ministry-sponsored projects that have now been cancelled. These scientists had intended to make use of unique data from the World Health Organization's European Longitudinal Study of Pregnancy and Childhood (ELSPAC), which has been carried out in Brno for almost a quarter of a century (since 1990).

“It is very difficult to explain to our partner institutions abroad that the project passed through all stages of international evaluation and was recommended for funding, only for the entire programme to be cancelled by the Ministry," says Jana Klánová, Director of RECETOX. “Such actions harm not only the research team but the reputation of Czech science as a whole."

Jaroslav Koča, Director of Masaryk University's Central European Institute of Technology (CEITEC MU), has a similar view of the matter. “For years we have been striving to put Brno and the Czech Republic on the map of the world's centres of science," he says. “Any such tarnishing of our reputation is very difficult to put right." The project that was due to be implemented at CEITEC provided for the return of Karel Říha, another Czech scientist, who currently works as a group leader at the Gregor Mendel Institute in Vienna.