Tuesday 13 April 2021
An interview with Prof. Włodzimierz Bernacki, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Government Commissioner for Monitoring the Implementation of Higher Education and Science Reform
How would you rate the performance of the Polish Academy of Sciences?
It cannot be evaluated unequivocally, because to obtain a complete picture of this institution, it is necessary to adopt at least several different points of view. If you look at the number of publications and scientific achievements, then it can already be said that the achievements of the scientists of the Polish Academy of Sciences are significant. And the analysis of the structure of the Polish Academy of Sciences, and thus the institutes operating within it, will show an indisputable division. We have a group of really great institutes, but there are also weak units – both in terms of research and in terms of the effectiveness of obtaining EU funding for research projects and the way individual projects are conducted.
It should be added that PAN is not only research institutes of various ranks and importance, but also a kind of company that brings together scientists who are members of the Polish Academy of Sciences. Already in the past, there were many projects aimed at introducing changes to this fossilized structure. Unfortunately, these were concepts that to a large extent were never implemented. This indicates that the changes are really necessary.
The Ministry is preparing to reform the Polish Academy of Sciences in order to improve the functioning of this institution. In which areas is this strengthening necessary, that is, where the Polish Academy of Sciences is the weakest?
First, we must strive to remove the duplication of the nature of God that I mentioned. Second, there is a need for a review of those good institutes that are doing well and doing well. It is also necessary to introduce changes in the relationships between individual institutions. Sometimes their close cooperation is desirable, so that their work can be done at a higher level. Therefore, there is a need for a body that links these institutes to conduct joint activities, especially when it comes to raising funds for individual projects.
At the moment, we are dealing with a situation that can be understood otherwise, which is that the president of the Polish Academy of Sciences would like to strengthen his position, while the institutes are complaining about the fact that they are under severe pressure from “headquarters”, a far-reaching decentralization proposal. In my opinion, it is necessary to reform Relationships between individual institutes, to create groups of institutes that actually cooperate and fulfill the necessary scientific requirements.
What is Copernican International Academy?
The Copernican National Program and the International Academy of Copernicus are the idea of referring to the 550th anniversary of the birth of Nicolaus Copernicus. This anniversary is an opportunity to recall the place of Polish science in the past and to show the participation of Polish scientists in contemporary science. We want to show the great scientific activity of Polish scientists not only in the country, but also their participation in research work in research centers of universities spread all over the world. Thus, the emergence of the Copernican International Academy served as a bond, a bond for all scholars, both at home and abroad, to all who, through their work, proved the important place of Poles in the sciences.
Where and when did the idea for the Copernican International Academy come from?
The idea of referring to the most prominent Polish scientists appeared before. For the time being, we want to bring together a group of the most prominent Polish scholars in the country and abroad, on the one hand. On the other hand, the intention of the project makers is to promote science by funding the Copernican Awards. Finally, the Copernican International Academy will carry out activities in support of scientific research (Copernican Scholarships). The promoters of the project also wanted to establish the Nicolaus Copernicus School, where the most distinguished representative of Polish science could have a master’s degree for a wide range of students.
How will the Copernican International Academy be different from the Polish Academy of Sciences?
The first issue is the difference in the number of members of the two institutions. There will be a relatively small group of scientists at the MAK, much smaller than the Polish Academy of Sciences. So we’re going to deal with a heavy dose of elitism. Additionally, MAK will be a school that will conduct educational activities. This is another important difference. Let us remind you that the Polish Academy of Sciences is mainly engaged in scientific research. Polish science ambassadors are also to be appointed. To summarize – MAK will have a completely different look and different goals of its activity.
Part of the community against PAN reform. Why are they afraid of change?
That’s right, but I would like to point out a certain regularity here. Since Minister Przemislau Kzarnik has been appointed Minister of the Ministry of Education and Higher Education, he meets every step of the way, and I speak for himself as well, with absolute opposition and criticism from some scientific circles. The rule is that you first look at who is the author of a particular project, and only then what is the essence of the project. However, this rule is not new. Several hundred years ago, when Hugo Cottage appeared at the Cracow Academy and decided to reform it, he also faced criticism from the professors. So every attempt at reform is burdened with such risk.
Work on setting up the new institution is advanced. Who is responsible for the project and who is involved in the work?
– This is an idea that originated in the environment of the United Right, specifically in the Law and Justice Party. The Prime Minister also supports this concept. It is the establishment of a strong and strong scientific institution in the European and global dimension. Its implementation will be valuable, especially in the context of rebuilding the Polish economy and science in a post-Covid reality.