The vision of Science Fund is to promote the social, technological, cultural, and economic development of Serbia
Science Fund of the Republic of Serbia is a public organization that supports scientific and research activities. It was established in March 2019, with the aim of providing funds and conditions for development of scientific and research activities in the Republic of Serbia, as necessary for the advancement of a knowledge-based society. We talked with the acting director of the Science Fund, Milica Đurić-Jovićić about the current programs, international cooperation, as well as plans for 2021.
Science Fund of the Republic of Serbia as a young institution has already opened five programs for research funding. What is the SF development strategy?
The programs of the Science Fund are driven by the scientific excellence and quality. They are implemented through thematic highly competitive public calls for project proposals.
The projects are expected to provide high-level research, innovative results, competitiveness at international level, and relevance to society in general. The vision of Science Fund is to promote the social, technological, cultural, and economic development of the Republic of Serbia by financing scientific and R&D projects. Through our programs, we are making investment in our country’s future and knowledge. Discoveries of our researchers will have many applications and create valuable impact.
Discoveries of our researchers will have many applications and create valuable impact
How does Science Fund of the Republic of Serbia compare to other international science foundations? What the Science Fund does to ensure international cooperation?
Science Fund is young institution which has been highly motivated since its start to develop programs and procedures which are comparable to similar institutions in EU. Our goals are to provide high quality programs and support for scientific excellence, but also to develop internationally recognised principles and procedures which will foster new partnership and the base for international funding.
The Science Fund has been developing very fast. Since our establishment in March 2019, our progress was also monitored and supported by the World Bank and EU delegation in Serbia. Programs were carefully designed and very much aligned with procedures and forms designed by the European Commission for Horizon programs. In this way, we indirectly wanted to build capacities of our researchers to apply for EU funds and bring them closer to that point.
SF procedures are based on the best practices from foreign national funds and research agencies, dominantly from EU countries. We had excellent support from our colleagues abroad who recognized our enthusiasm and motivation, and were always ready to support us.
Based on these principles, besides national funding from the State budget, our programs will be also supported through the World Bank (project SAIGE), and EU (IPA program).
How do you choose projects and what are the evaluation criteria?
Our program calls attract many research groups, and in the past two years, the success rate has been 10-20% which is highly competitive for researchers.
The programs are designed by our Scientific Council and approved by the Management Board and the Government. The selection process is external and international. Our database now includes more than 1300 international peer reviewers from over 60 countries. Foreign experts participate in both stages of the evaluation process that is based on the three pillars: scientific excellence, impact, and implementation.
Although only top ranked can get funding, all applicants receive feedback from international experts which can be used for future improvement of the proposal and further quest for funding.
The pilot program of the Science Fund was dedicated to young researchers. Please, tell us something more about it.
We are very proud of our pilot program PROMIS, which is being implemented through 59 projects. This program was designed to support postdocs and young researchers, and help them become project managers, independent researchers who choose their teams but also take responsibility for project management and finances. They got the opportunity to create new partnerships, develop innovative ideas, products, patents, publications, as well as to develop skills and concepts for applying for future project-based funding under national and foreign funds. Some of our PROMIS researchers have already got projects within Horizon 2020, NATO, and Marie Sklodowska-Curie programs.
What is the contribution of the Science Fund to research discovery in the field of AI?
The Science Fund supports 12 research projects within the Program for Development of Projects in the Field of Artificial Intelligence, that was created in accordance with the Strategy for the Development of Artificial Intelligence in the Republic of Serbia for the period 2020-2025 and the Strategy of Scientific and Technological Development of the Republic of Serbia.
Our goals are to provide high quality programs and support for scientific excellence
This Program aims to support the application of scientific results and technological innovations, increase Serbia’s competitiveness, enhance the development of human resources, as well as promote the international cooperation in the domain of science and innovations.
The basic thematic areas are: General artificial intelligence, Machine learning, Natural language processing, Planning, Knowledge reasoning, Computer vision and speech communication and Intelligent systems.
The funded scientific projects are aiming for the results that will be applicable in the fields of ecology, environmental protection, industry, technology, agriculture, and communications. In the next two years, as the results of this projects we will have analytical tools that will be beneficial in various fields – electrical savings, more complex digital assistants, reliable blockchain technologies, and other useful purposes.
One of your programs aims to strengthen the cooperation between scientists from Serbia, and Serbian scientists from diaspora. What is your strategy for this international cooperation?
Serbia is proud to have many distinguished scientists around the world who represent us in the best possible way. Science Fund aims to enable formal cooperation with them by introducing collaboration programs for knowledge exchange and joint research.
We are currently implementing the first mobility collaboration program – Serbian Science and Diaspora Collaboration Program – which is focused on short term visits of researchers from the Republic of Serbia to researchers from the diaspora. Through this program we wanted to help them establish or improve scientific cooperation with the diaspora, exchange of knowledge, cooperation on scientific and research problems and challenges, publication of papers and creation of patents, development of commercial products, joint application for project funding.
This program is implemented through 92 funded projects with participation of researchers from diaspora based in European countries (60 projects), North America (23 projects), Australia (4 projects), Asia (4 projects) and South America (1 project).
At a time when the world is primarily focused on fight against the pandemic, Serbian scientists also work on projects within the Science Fund Special research program on COVID-19. What are the scientific topics of these projects, and how will they minimize the consequences of Coronavirus?
Within the open public call for Special research program on COVID-19, the Science Fund supports 14 projects. Our scientists are investigating innovative methods for detecting coronavirus, exploring drug repurposing for COVID-19, while trying to answer numerous important questions – how to protect people’s mental health, how to deal with consequences of the pandemic at micro and macroeconomic level, as well as other important topics.
What are the plans of the Science Fund for 2021?
Science and innovation must drive our aspiration for sustainable development. We are preparing new program for young researchers which would be focused on best students who are considering leaving the country and to offer attractive conditions for them to stay in Serbia. There will also be new program for science and industry collaboration, and special programs with research topics of strategic importance as identified by the government, science, and industry. We are also working on establishing new partnerships with research agencies in different countries. When it comes to excellence of science and research teams, there are many opportunities for collaboration, and it is our goal to identify them and make them visible to all hardworking, enthusiastic researchers who are willing to push scientific or technological boundaries beyond current limits.