Over the past decade, Southeastern European countries affected by conflict have not only lost lives on a massive scale but also intellectual capacity. Research indicates that two out of three teaching and research jobs have been lost in some university facilities, devastating the research and development (R&D) sectors in many of these countries. Scientists have either taken up positions abroad (external brain drain) or abandoned their professions for better-paid jobs in the private sector (internal brain drain). The University of Tirana, for example, lost some 40 percent of its academic staff over this period, 90 percent of whom were under 40 years old. In Macedonia, the number of scientists and engineers employed in R&D fell by over 70 percent (from 1,333 per million population to only 387) between 1995 and 2000. By providing state-of-the-art Grid computing technology and seed money for exchange visits abroad to universities, the joint United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and Hewlett-Packard project aims to encourage young scientists to remain in the region and cooperate with the diaspora.
The Piloting Solutions for Alleviating Brain Drain in South East Europe project was launched in February 2004 with the delivery of a first consignment of Grid computing equipment to universities in Croatia, Bosnia Herzegovina and Serbia and Montenegro.
“The project has resulted in the creation of Web sites, databases and new research projects at several of the universities involved,” said Howard Moore, director of UNESCO's Regional Bureau for Science in Europe which is implementing the project. “There are a large number of young scientists involved, which is a positive sign for the future of scientific research and education in the region.”
In Croatia, the project has allowed the University of Split to create, in addition to other activities, a database and an interactive Web site of Croatian physicists around the world to share information with educational and research institutions abroad. The Universities of Sarajevo and East Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina have developed new e-learning programmes that have been introduced into the curricula. Instead of applying for fellowships abroad, several young engineers at the University of Belgrade have stayed at home to develop e-Lab experiments using the Grid computing technology, gaining new skills and experience, and creating new research tools to educate other students.
Stamenka Uvalic-Trumbic, who conceived the project in the Education Sector at UNESCO's headquarters in Paris, is pleased to see that, “Not only has the project strengthened scientific and education capacity at the national level, but it has also re-established dialogue among young researchers after years of broken communication.”
Beneficiary universities also have the opportunity to establish regional and international partnerships with organizations such as the European Laboratory of Nuclear Physics (CERN), the Gelato Federation and other European Commission projects.