Forskning ved Københavns Universitet - Københavns Universitet

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Denmark lacks coherent policy on basic research

Publikation: Bidrag til tidsskriftKommentar/debatForskning

Sir:

Recent months have seen a lively, and at times bitter, debate in the Danish media on the future direction of scientific research. Much has been made by the government of the need to shift towards more applied research to maximize the short-term benefits of public investment. However, we would suggest that more critical problems exist that must be addressed immediately to ensure the long-term health of Danish science. Chief among these are a poorly funded and misdirected policy on basic research funding, and conditions of employment that restrict the research opportunities of young scientists.

Danish science is moderately well funded1. We have modern facilities, an excellent level of technical support and a buoyant biotechnology sector2. What is sorely lacking is a coherent policy on the funding and nurturing of basic research. Entry-level appointments (assistant professor) have a heavy teaching load and no support for scientific staff. Young scientists cannot improve their situation by writing grant applications, since the funding available to the research councils allows little, if any, support for salary components. Such restrictions are making assistant professorships increasingly unattractive, with limited long-term prospects. This situation is only alleviated by the benefaction of senior scientists and charitable foundations, and occasional directives in selected areas which allow young scientists to develop independent research.

Further obstacles exist in the recruitment process: new positions are often focused on narrow research areas and only advertised locally (in Danish). Recent well-intentioned legislative changes have not fully addressed these problems.

Such an inflexible system (which often obliges scientists to spend their entire career in the same institute) is ill-equipped to adapt to the rapid development of new areas in basic research. The only surprise is that Danish science has remained so competitive for so long. How long this will continue to be the case is unclear when there is little to attract young scientists. Without a competitive basic research component, the ability to foster novel applied research (so beloved of the present government) will be severely eroded.

Similar criticisms have been levelled at Sweden. In its case at least some of these criticisms are now being taken to heart, as can be seen by the establishment of openly competitive, well funded, junior faculty positions at the new Centre for Molecular Medicine in Umea. We hope that similar initiatives will be taken in Denmark.


Udgivelsesdato: 15 April 1999
OriginalsprogEngelsk
TidsskriftNature
Vol/bind398
Sider (fra-til)556
Antal sider1
ISSN0028-0836
StatusUdgivet - 1999

Bibliografisk note

Paper id:: doi:10.1038/19180

ID: 10021069