"You have huge potential, and it is necessary to inform the entire world about it. And we will try to help you in that aspect." With these words, Phil Baty, Editor-in-Chief of the THE World University Rankings, explained why leading world scientists, academics and politicians are meeting this week in Olomouc. At the international summit, which was organised by the British company Times Higher Education (THE) in cooperation with Palacký University Olomouc (UP), there was a group debate on whether the region of Central and Eastern Europe will become a new world centre for the arts and sciences, and what would be necessary to fulfil such a goal.
The global summit by the prestigious ranking company, at which guests have arrived from all over the world, is on the theme New Europe – Building a hub for world-class research, and is taking place for the first time ever in Central Europe. And it is taking place at the same time as the international festival of documentary films, Academia Film Olomouc. Their coexistence was spotlighted by the host of the summit and UP Rector, Jaroslav Miller. "I'm honoured that I can present two events of European renown in Olomouc this week. They are actually two sides of the same coin – on one side we are debating about the financing of science, academics, research, university management – and on the other side we are showing how science can be popularised. I think the connection is a very happy one," the Rector said.
Pavel Doleček, Czech Deputy Minister of Education, appreciated the university's part in the organisation of the summit. He mentioned that UP conducts top scientific work in Czechia, and it is necessary to have that heard abroad. He also praised the hospitality of Olomouc's university. "Palacký University is a big fish in the pond, conducting first-rate research, and is one of the schools which has proven its ability to make good use of money from European funds. I consider the organisation of the THE summit in Olomouc as a boon for the entire Czech Republic," Doleček stated.
According to Jaroslav Miller, UP Olomouc has strengthened its position by co-organising the summit for two reasons. "For some time now, we have had the legitimate feeling that Central Europe is not well enough known in the global context of science, academics and research. And we are not at all pleased by that," the rector said. He also recalled that in recent decades, the countries in the region have made enormous strides: both in terms of investment, and also in the area of scientific, academic and research results. Rector Miller stated that the second reason why the university is hosting the summit is that it is an attempt to make use of the potential the states called the 'New Europes' – i.e. the 13 countries which joined the EU since 2004 – have. "We have huge potential in the coming decades to play in the European premier league – and even on the global playing field. However, we need to first identify our weak points and analyse the areas on which we need to better concentrate. And this summit, and the discussions with colleagues from other universities which it brings, can help," the rector said. Phil Baty of THE agreed. "We would like to offer our analyses and the possibility of sharing our data in order for us to truly support your huge potential," he said, pointing out that THE is presenting the first comparison of the universities of the "New Europes" at the summit itself.
According to Jiří Drahoš, former President of the Czech Academy of Sciences, the Czech Republic and its universities have a good chance to succeed. He stressed however, that politicians ought to be capable of presenting universities and scientific organisations with a long-term outlook. "We ought to state together how financing should look, over the long run. Every rector, every head of an institution, needs to be kept in the picture. You can’t simply change the financing year-to-year by umpteen percent," Drahoš stated.
The summit will also offer a programme open to the public tomorrow. In cooperation with the Academia Film Olomouc festival, a public talk will be given by leading Czech academics and scientists on the theme of scientific excellence in the older and new EU states. A debate will take place at 6 pm in the Corpus Christi Chapel between the physical chemist and general director of the RCPTM, Radek Zbořil; the most cited Czech scientist, chemist, Pavel Hobza; historian and UP Rector Jaroslav Miller; and Michal Otyepka, holder of a prestigious European Research Council grant, among others.