UP is planning to have the most powerful scientific institute in the country

Ilustrational photo. Repro: Žurnál UP
monday 8. october 2018, 8:57 – Text: Martina Šaradínová

Next year, Palacký University Olomouc (UP) should be expanded with a university institute that has the potential to become the strongest scientific organisation in the Czech Republic. The forthcoming Czech Institute of Science and Technology should link three existing university research centres established within the Operational Program Research and Development for Innovation programme. Moreover, University Hospital Olomouc and the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry (IOCB) of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic have declared their interest for intensive cooperation. The goal of the intended change is to increase scientific performance, ensure financial sustainability of research centres and enhance technology transfer. In addition to sharing activities within the new higher education institution, the research centres will continue to play a significant role in teaching and research activities at the Faculties of Science and Medicine.

The University institute should deepen the interconnection of activities of the Centre of the Region Haná for Biotechnological and Agricultural Research (CRH), the Regional Centre of Advanced Technologies and Materials (RCPTM) and the Institute of Molecular and Translation Medicine (IMTM). These workplaces have been among the most productive in the Czech Republic for a long time, including prestigious grants in the “Operational Programme: Research, Development and Education” and in the tenders “Excellence in Research”, “Excellent Teams” and “Pre-Application Research”, with total grants of over one billion CZK (€40 million). RCPTM is the only workplace at UP where a European Research Council (ERC) grant has been investigated. Scientists who have repeatedly ranked in the Highly Cited Researchers list – including Pavel Hobza, laureate of Czech Mind award – are working at this institute. CRH Scientific Director Jaroslav Doležel has also been nominated for the Czech Mind award this year.

“Regardless of the high scientific level and grant performance at our centres, all scientific research institutions in the Czech Republic will have to face issues of sustainability and systems of financing in connection with the termination of grants from the “Operational Programme: Research, Development and Education” and European Structural Investment Funds (ESIF). Integration of the three science centres will significantly increase their competitiveness in European and global grant competitions and will allow for their financial stability after 2020, which will have a positive impact on the entire university and its position in the world,” said UP Rector Jaroslav Miller. He added that project details will be presented in October and November to the university public and discussed at academic forums of individual faculties.

Power of an alliance

Greater interconnection of research was recommended to UP also by an audit of the European University Association, according to which the fragmentation of research hinders both a higher degree of excellence in science as well as greater achievements in the field of technology transfer. “All three centres have similar management, funding and evaluation mechanisms. Above all, they successfully cooperate scientifically and resolve joint grant projects. Associated staff and infrastructure capacities may attract other leading international experts, strengthen internationalisation, and increase the probability of success in major international competitions such as the H2020 and FP9 programmes. I really appreciate the idea of linking the institutes with their parent faculties, as is the case in Germany at the Max Planck Institutes. Students will then be able to conduct research under the leadership of the best experts and make use of the institute’s state-of-the-art equipment. Close cooperation with faculties will enable the career development of young scientists,” said Radek Zbořil, RCPTM Director.

Significant strengthening of Olomouc science could also be brought about by the cooperation with IOCB, one of the most successful research institutes in the country. “We have been cooperating with all three Olomouc scientific centres. However, the new institute would deepen this cooperation. We are interested in using the unique infrastructure that these centres have built. Sharing of technical capacities is already happening in part; now it will be balanced and reciprocal. I expect some of our staff to be directly involved in research activities and projects of the new Olomouc institute,” said IOCB Director Zdeněk Hostomský. According to him, the new institute undoubtedly has the ambition to become the most powerful university workplace in the Czech Republic.

“The association with IOCB could be a pilot project that builds upon the often declared cooperation of universities by the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic into a meaningful and highly specific form. The only way to make the Czech Republic more visible on the European and world scientific map is through the interconnection of excellent research centres. I also see great potential in the possibility of the new institute and IOCB investigating large international grant projects,” Hostomský added. IOCB is also able to offer its technology transfer expertise to Olomouc colleagues, as well as the possibility of co-financing common infrastructure especially for transferring research results into practice.

Another organisation interested in active cooperation with the new University institute is University Hospital Olomouc. According to its director Roman Havlík, the quality of research at the hospital and at Palacký University co-decided on the quality and prestige of these institutions. “In order not to fall behind or be mediocre, we need to make the right changes. Unfortunately, prospective research directions are often not developed over the long term and are not mutually supported. The possible establishment of a new institute, which brings together the leading scientific teams of the university and the hospital, is considered desirable. I believe that the interconnection of teams of the highest quality will make use of possible closer cooperation between the University Hospital and Palacký University and will direct research in both these institutions in a conceptual direction. Systematic involvement of Ph.D. students, future associate professors and professors in activities of the institute can only enhance the quality of results of both institutions,” said Havlík.

Strong university = strong faculties

Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry Milan Kolář describes the partnership with University Hospital Olomouc as very open, friendly and mutually beneficial for the development of both institutions. Similar expectations are linked to the new university institute. “Organisational interconnection of UP research centres within one unit and close cooperation with UP faculties, University Hospital Olomouc and other subjects will, in my opinion, be beneficial and will bring about new projects that will subsequently contribute to strengthening the University as a recognised scientific and research institution. This will certainly be reflected in faculties and other collaborating subjects. First of all, the issue of ‘UP’s vision of further positive growth’ is one very important to me. Therefore, I agree with the establishment of a new university institute at UP, subject to mutual agreement based on respecting the appropriate requirements among all the relevant partners,” said Kolář.

The establishment of a new institute must be approved by the UP Academic Senate. The relationship between scientific centres and their parent faculties would be contractual. The institute would be headed by a Director selected via an international tender.