Spain’s disinvestment in science has become notable in the worst possible year, but it has been felt for decades. The main R & D & i laboratories are suffering from temporary contracts, low salaries, young people abroad, pensioners working for free and a public endowment well below the European average. The situation is even more extreme when the future of the pandemic is in the hands of privileged brains and great researchers working in precariousness. Therefore, it seems that 2021 is the time to change things.
Pedro Duque: “We must distinguish between ventilated and closed places to stop the transmission of COVID by aerosols”
The Ministry headed by Pedro Duque has presented the Pact for Science and Innovation, reached with the commitment of 64 Spanish scientific entities. The document focuses on three agreements to be reached in the coming years. The first has to do with significantly increasing public investment in R & D & i until it reaches 1.25% of GDP in 2030 and 0.75% before 2024, as established by the European Commission. This would be equivalent to an increase of approximately 2,700 million euros in the next three years and 8,800 million in 2030, according to calculations made with current GDP.
Duque has shown himself confident of reaching 2% of the investment of Spain’s total GDP in science by the end of the legislature. “But that is only a first milestone, because we would not even have reached the current European average,” he admitted. Between 2009 and 2017, Germany increased its investment in R & D & i by 31%, Italy by 12% and France by 10%, while “in the same period, Spain reduced it by 6%”. “We have to do much better and reach a broad consensus,” he said, appealing for a political agreement that must be reached in the coming weeks when the State Pact reaches Congress.
In a world in which international competition is increasingly intense, Spain is in the position in which Lewis Carroll placed Alicia: you have to run a lot to stay in the same place and run twice to change places.
Second, to prevent brain drain from Spain abroad, the pact proposes greater incorporation, recovery and consolidation of scientific and innovative talent. Also, that a stable and predictable public career be consolidated for research and technical personnel, as is the case in more advanced countries. And, in addition, that researchers have from the beginning with the necessary material and administrative means, also for the incorporation and training of R + D + i personnel in companies.
“The measures against precariousness will have a beneficial effect on our entire science and innovation system, and we especially hope for women,” the head of the Ministry has promised, recognizing that the extra burden of care makes them more vulnerable to a precarious sector in itself. That “makes it difficult for us to take advantage of the talent of half the population.”
In an interview with this newspaper, Pedro Duque recognized that “the conditions in which science is done in Spain are not sustainable”. “We are very determined to create a stable scientific career in which people enter at an earlier age, at which time scientific production is highest. That is, contracts that allow forming a family without the precariousness that makes them doubt of whether or not they will be able to dedicate themselves to science “, he completed. To do this, it proposes a fixed form of hiring from the beginning, setting milestones of scientific excellence that are reviewed by a court every so often and “other than as a civil servant”, a position “to which people access on average with forty-many years “.
Investing in R & D & i results in products and companies that generate enormous wealth, obvious social benefits and quality jobs.
Finally, the Ministry wants to give independence, resources and means to the funding agencies of R & D & I ─the State Research Agency (AEI), the Center for Industrial Technological Development (CDTO) and the Carlos Health Institute III (ISCIII) ─ to focus solely on scientific and innovative excellence. “To ensure in the future that whatever the Government there is a strategic communication with these agencies”, Pedro Duque has promised.