The 7th Berlin Process Joint Science Conference held in Tirana from September 18-20, 2023, focused on the transformation and strategic development of higher education, research, innovation, and technology sectors in the Western Balkans and Southeast Europe. The emphasis was laid on excellence, mobility, cooperation, and knowledge-driven growth. Key messages included the necessity of investments in education and innovation to combat brain drain and expedite EU integration.
Several priority actions were recommended:
- Stable Funding: Allocating a minimum of 4% of national GDP to education and 2% to research and innovation by Western Balkan governments, aiming to increase these thresholds progressively.
- EU’s Growth Plan: Incorporation of targeted investments in education, research, and innovation into the EU’s new Growth Plan for the Western Balkans.
- Research Hubs: Establishment of Research and Technology Excellence Hubs in every Western Balkan country to catalyze competitive research and technological advancement.
- Universities of Excellence: Funding national competitions to transform higher education and enhance excellence in research, transfer, and technology development.
- Brain Circulation: Implementing measures to facilitate the circulation of talent and engage with the academic and entrepreneurial diaspora.
- National Pacts: Modernizing education, research, and innovation systems through the introduction of National Pacts to align with EU standards.
- Research Fund: Establishing the Western Balkans Research Fund and renewing the Horizon Europe Widening Special Call for the Western Balkans to foster research excellence.
The conference accentuated the challenges arising from the pandemic, geopolitical shifts, financial uncertainties, and academic freedom erosion. A transformation in higher education and research is needed, calling for a culture of excellence, meritocracy, depoliticization of academic life, and creating attractive prospects for skilled researchers.
The conference advocated for stronger connections between universities, research institutions, and the private sector, emphasizing the impact of research and scalability of innovations. It called for a political commitment to allocate a minimum share of GDP for research and education, emphasizing the need for interconnectivity and integration in the Western Balkans’ research landscape. The concept of mobility was reimagined as transnational brain circulation, including diaspora engagement, to transform Southeast Europe into a regional marketplace of ideas and talents.
In conclusion, the conference emphasized a collective commitment to driving transformations informed by evidence-based expertise, mutual learning, and global trends. A call for enhanced collaboration with various stakeholders, including the European Commission and national governments, was made to foster innovation, quality, and transparency across the educational and research landscape in the Western Balkans and Southeast Europe.
Photo: Academy of Sciences of Albania