The main goals of Masaryk University for the following five years are summarised in the new Strategic Plan. What are the research priorities?
“We are transforming into a research university with increasing impact in Central Europe. Several large infrastructure projects such as Ceitec, Cerit, and Carla, financed primarily by EU funding, allowed us to build adequate facilities, purchase high-quality equipment and increase our international visibility. Now it is time to shift the emphasis towards developing our internal environment,” says Petr Dvořák, Vice-Rector for Research.
According to the authors of the Strategic Plan, the university needs to become more open to international environment and improve conditions for young researchers. “PhD students are the driving force behind research. There have to be changes that will improve the system of doctoral studies, but we also need to offer young researchers adequate pay and nurture their careers,” says Roman Badík, Head of Research Office at the Rector’s Office.
The university will also need to make a clear decision about its research priorities. “Current global research is highly competitive and it is impossible for a single institution to devote equal amounts of energy and funding to all branches of science,” explains Dvořák.
Research priorities should be based primarily on the international importance of individual disciplines, the quality of research done in the past and also on the discipline’s potential for future development. Moreover, interdisciplinary research topics need to be actively sought out, as they increasingly show the most potential to grow. “However, we must also pay attention to the support of high-quality research in disciplines that might not be of global importance, but are significant in the Czech context,” adds Dvořák.
Thanks to grants awarded by the EU Structural Funds, the equipment at a number of Masaryk University facilities can be compared to that of top European or even world-leading institutions – however, as the authors of the Strategic Plan point out, the university also needs to make sure that it is used effectively. According to Badík, “We need to find more ways of sharing research equipment among individual locations, develop a replacement plan and make qualified judgments about further investments into equipment.”
Professional support and motivation
Masaryk University wants to focus on improving the support services offered to researchers and implementing more effective motivation tools in the coming years. At the same time, it will introduce regular research quality assessments of individual faculties, sites, teams and individuals.
“To improve research output and excellence, it is vital to create a motivating environment for all who undertake serious research. In many disciplines, we have excellent teams whose research results are comparable to institutions that are the best in Europe or in the world. We have to allocate more support to these teams and at the same time motivate the development of new groups,” says Dvořák.
If researchers are to succeed in grant competitions, adequate research support is necessary. Experience gained in the previous EU Structural Funds programming period clearly showed that further professionalisation of the support system would be beneficial.
This year, specialised services for researchers helped win two prestigious ERC grants worth millions of euros for Masaryk University. The university will therefore work on further development of information services covering all relevant grant programmes as well as highly specialised services for specific research teams and individuals who want to win some of the most coveted international grants.
With regard to the applicability of research, the Strategic Plan specifies that research efforts should serve the interests of society. “However, we certainly do not want to neglect basic research. We have to support projects with relatively obvious, quick and – with a high probability – significant social impact as well as research that contributes to general knowledge in the long term,” says Dvořák. He also adds that whichever the case, research projects must offer the most optimal “return” on invested money and efforts.