Towards full endorsement of C&C in Serbia: EURAXESS Serbia report

European Charter for researchers and Code of conduct for their employers is considered as the set of reference principles regarding the rights and responsibilities of researchers and the organizations in which they work. Find out here how close or far from implementing these principles is Serbia.

Ethical and professional aspects

Right to perform research is granted by the Law on higher education, Law on scientific and research activities and University statutes. The Research freedom is only subject to limitations arising from scientific standards, ethical principles, human rights and environmental protection. However, in some cases, where strong and committed initiatives conflict with the departmental needs, seniority culture limits the freedom of young researchers. Furthermore, it is not possible (or, at least not typical due to seniority culture) for researchers below the level of assistant professor to lead projects. In case of national projects, funded by the Ministry, only researchers above and including the level of assistant professor are allowed to coordinate projects.

Despite all the problems, sometimes it feels that the research freedom is not complemented by the tools to ensure the professional responsibility.

One example is the case of plagiarism that sometime occurs and typically, lack of actions to prevent or punish this plagiarism. Law on scientific and research activities declares that scientific and research titles may be revoked if it is established that the scientific references, based on which the candidate was elected to the rank, are plagiarism. However, it seems that universities did not define or implement exact procedures for revoking the scientific titles in these cases. Furthermore, no tools for prevention exist. Plagiarism is not monitored effectively and systems for tracking articles at the universities (self-archiving) could facilitate the automatic monitoring.

With regard to the above issue of responsibility, a lack of professional attitude sometimes occurs due to the fact that universities did not implement tools for that. For example, typically, no working hours are systematically track, there are no internal reporting procedures related to research, etc. The exception from this is the research work that is being carried out in scope of some of nationally funded research project.

Finally, there is a general problem with evaluation of the research work. Typically, no regular individual evaluation/appraisal systems implemented. There are Bylaws on quality assurance, but they often only set the general principles. Some faculties are implementing surveys among PhD students, but these surveys are often not customized to the realities of the doctoral studies.

Recruitment

Regarding the PhD grants, issued by the Ministry for education, science and technology, it is very important to note that the government makes no discrimination when Serbian and foreign students are considered. Foreign citizen can apply for PhD studies under the same conditions like for a local one, given that he/she has health insurance. More important, the foreign citizens are eligible for a PhD grant, issued by the Ministry, in case that there are bilateral agreements between Serbia and country of PhD student’s origin.

Another good practice is noted at University of Nis, who issued a Bylaw on the students’ mobility and academic recognition of the mobility period. This Bylaw defines the procedures for student mobility which foresee signing a Study and Research plan by the foreign PhD student or post-doc, home and host institution, with available templates of these plans.

Recognition of qualifications is regulated at the universities and carried out by the specialized office. The practices are based on the relevant provisions of the Law of higher education. In average, the process of diploma recognition takes approx. 2 months, although there are cases where the process of diploma recognition took more, due to irresponsibility and lack of commitment of some committee’s members.

However, despite the favorable practices above, the number of foreign PhD students in Serbia is still low. Moreover, there are almost no foreign and very few returning researchers. One of the main obstacles for mobility of PhD students is that the grants, issued by the Ministry are not transferable. Even though some procedures exist at the level of universities, the faculties are not following these (the problem of disintegration).

Finally, the key problem of the R&D university landscape in Serbia is the transparency of employment. First, there are no transparent criteria, related to research activities for opening new positions on University. The job positions are not advertised in a transparent way (for example, there are many cases of position ads only in local newspapers). There are no career development prospects and working conditions descriptions in ads. The deadlines for applications are not realistic if the applications of foreign researchers need to be considered (in most of the cases, only 15 days).

The practices of evaluation process during the employment are not transparent at all. Typically, there are no interviews and the involvement of the evaluation committees’ members is very passive, often without meetings. It is mostly the job of the head of the committee to write the evaluation report. Evaluation reports are not standardized. Some faculties maintain there own standard templates, but this is not unified at the level of universities. Concerning the criteria for evaluations, candidates are quantitatively evaluated on basis of the corresponding rules (mostly favoring the journal publications), but these rules are not considering the skills, creativity, knowledge and experience of the candidates, in a whole.

Working conditions

In contrast to the problem related to employment issues above, working conditions for researchers are considered as favorable.

There are rules for sabbatical use. All researchers with teaching position, holding in minimum 5 years can spend one year in other institution abroad or in writing the monograph publication.

Universities in Nis and Belgrade established a Foundation for housing for young researchers, which facilitate a properties sale (exclusively to researchers) under special pricing and loan conditions.

All teachers can work part-time in other universities (for maximum of 1/3 of working hours) given that previous agreement is made with this institution by his/her home university and that scientific-research council of his/her faculty allowed this.

According to the Law for higher education and Law on scientific and research activities, given that researcher is forced to spend more than 6 months for leave (in listed special circumstances), his election period will be extended for the period of leave.

Social security, health and pension contributions are paid by the university to the full extent.

There are no gender issues. According to the Strategy of scientific and technological development of the Republic of Serbia 2010-2015, 43% of researchers are women in Serbia.

In most of the cases, researchers are actively participating in decision making bodies of the R&D organizations. Most of the teaching staff (sometimes from the level of associate professor and above) participate (with voting right) in the work of Teaching-scientific councils of the faculties. Participation is typically mandatory.

Some of the identified problems/issues are: low salaries, no clear difference between obligations and financing of teaching and scientific work, lack of institutions providing career advices, no portability of grants, no ombudsman for researchers, etc.

PhD studies

In contrast to the impression of the quality of PhD programmes in Serbian universities, some important issues are found, related mostly to the process of their implementation. They are listed below.

There is no structured, standardized process of monitoring or evaluation of the supervision and mentoring processes. If any, this is implemented on the individual basis, by the mentor or supervisor. Typically, mentoring process is a “black-box”. The results that could arise from the supervision duties and responsibilities are not sufficiently rewarded or not at all. Hence, there is a lack of motivation. Sometimes, these responsibilities and duties are not possible to take due to teaching overload. Often, senior researchers do not recognize these duties, due to the workload or lack of responsibility.

Since the supervision process is not evaluated, it is not possible to determine the level of expertise, commitment and availability of the supervisors. All PhD students have supervisors, but this relationship is not binding, since the mentorship is determined at the end of the process, just before the thesis writing process starts.

Professional development

Another identified major problem of university R&D community is related to lack of capacity to offer or impossibility to pursue the professional development opportunities.

There is no formal obligation to the researchers to a continuous professional development, since certifications and acknowledgements of the professional development courses are not taken into account in career development.

Also, sometimes, teaching and research workload do not allow the professional development.