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BIRN: Scientific research in crisis pushes young researchers out of Albania

BIRN: Scientific research in crisis pushes young researchers out of Albania

Scarce funds, lack of transparency and bureaucracy within universities are discouraging young researchers who are looking beyond the country's borders to fulfill their academic ambitions.

When Klodian Dhoska finished his studies in 2007, he looked outside Albania to continue his doctorate. Today a lecturer at the Polytechnic University of Tirana, Dhoska says that the shortcomings in scientific research pushed him to leave the country to fulfill his academic ambitions.

Seventeen years later, little has changed.

"Where is the world out there with research, where are we?" It's like night and day," Dhoska told BIRN.

"There is a big deadlock here, as only 5% of the academic staff is engaged in real scientific research, while 95% do not even prioritize it," he added.

For the first time this year, the Albanian government announced the doubling of funding for scientific research from 758 million ALL in 2023 to 1.5 billion ALL for 2024. However, funding for science continues to remain nearly 10 times lower than the average of European Union countries.

About 500 million ALL or 1/3 of the 2024 budget for scientific research comes from foreign funding, which also carries the obligation to participate in various international projects. This significantly reduces the budget available to scientific researchers in the country.

The trickle-down distribution of funds by the government is not the only problem. According to a monitoring carried out by the organization "Civic Attitude", even public universities in Albania give more priority to the decoration of offices and the purchase of furniture than the funds that go in favor of science.

Migen Qiraxhi, coordinator from "Civic Attitude" told BIRN that international indices clearly show that scientific research has remained in a vicious circle in Albania for years. He also added that it is very rare for academics to engage in criticism of public policies.

"Academics, that is, the most educated of the country, have Academic Freedom and criticism as in 1992, the same as 32 years ago, when Albania had just emerged from a closed system," said Qiraxhi.

Faced with this situation, young seekers feel discouraged and continue to look for universities abroad to fulfill their goals.

Jetmira Ymeralilaj is a physics teacher in Berat who is passionate about experimental physics. She says that after completing her Master's studies, she tried to engage in scientific research, but could not find the right door.

With insufficient funds and no transparency, Ymeralilaj says that in Albania there are very few opportunities for those who want to explore genuine scientific research.

"For experimental physics there is none, I've searched, but I haven't been able to find anything, unless I didn't know how to orient myself," she explains.

"If you are going to do scientific research yourself, you should start with simple surveys. You don't have the right tools and you don't have the right support," she added.

Against her will, Jetmira is looking at emigration as an opportunity to continue scientific research.

"When I'm disappointed, who loves physics above all else... I'm looking to move, but what keeps me in two minds is that I have to start all over again," she continued.

Even Gledia Shehi, an excellent student at the Faculty of Law at the University of Tirana, had no plans to leave Albania. But after a 5-month experience with the Erasmus program in Germany, she is in two minds.

"I saw that I had many more opportunities there, which I don't have at my university. I had access to a lot of information, you could search for anything you wanted, while our library is not that rich, it is quite limited,” says Shehi.

"Even if I were to develop my doctorate in Albania, I would not rely only on what is offered here, I would definitely do a part abroad," she added.

Teacher Klodian Dhoska lists dozens of reasons that, according to him, make the path of scientific research difficult in Albania, but he insists that the "Achilles' heel" lies in the centralization of this process. He explains that in order to present an idea and make an application, several recommendations are needed from the administrator to the rector of the university.

"All these links are a problem for companies. If one of them doesn't like it, it takes away my chance to apply. So let's face it, if the head of the department doesn't like me as a person, I stay where I am, I can't apply," says Dhoska.

Decentralization, according to him, means reducing bureaucracies and suggests following the models of countries that have developed scientific research, according to which, it is the lecturer together with his work group that applies and manages the project and not the university.

"Most are individualists, hide information or materials, block you. For me, the key to success is the decentralization of scientific research," he concluded./BIRN

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