University of Zagreb School of Medicine hosted the Alliance4Life Trigger Event in Zagreb

On the 13th of December 2022, University of Zagreb School of Medicine (UZSM) hosted the first national Croatian Trigger Event within the project Alliance4Life_ACTIONS. The event was organized as a round table at the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts (CASA). The objectives of the event were to present proposals for new European initiatives for the reform of the science evaluation system and to present the development of the Biomedical Research Center Šalata - BIMIS, as a platform for the implementation of proposals for new European initiatives in accordance with the results of the Alliance4Life_ACTIONS project. Objectives of the event were presented by representatives of higher educational institutions, research institutions, relevant governmental institutions, and decision-makers.

The event was opened by academician Davor Miličić, Vice-president of CASA, and Professor Sven Seiwerth, Vice-dean for graduate studies at the UZSM, who warmly welcomed all participants and highlighted the importance of cooperation among each stakeholder of innovation. Smiljka Vikić-Topić, main contact person of the project for UZSM, briefly presented the project and the entry of UZSM into the A4L alliance

The first topic of the round table was “European initiative for the reform of the science evaluation system and the role of the Alliance4Life_ACTIONS project”. The invited speakers representing CEITEC, the coordinating institution of the Alliance4Life_ACTIONS project (Dr. Zlatuše Novotná), higher educational institution (academician Stipan Jonjić, School of Medicine University of Rijeka), and representative of the Ministry of Science (Hrvoje Meštrić, Ph.D., Head of the Department for Science and Technology) in their presentations focused on main aspects of current scientific evaluation systems, possible benefits and challenges of the new European initiative.

After the presentations, a discussion followed, in which, in addition to the mentioned lecturers, panelists were Professor Zoran Đogaš, Vice-chancellor of the University of Split, Professor Katarina Vukojević, Vice-dean for science from the School of Medicine, University of Split, Professor Marina Šantić, Vice-dean for science from the School of Medicine, University of Rijeka, Professor Ines Drenjančević, Vice-dean for science from the School of Medicine of the University of Osijek, and David Smith, Ph.D., Director of the Ruđer Bošković Institute.

In the dynamic discussion, it was pointed out that a prerequisite for conducting evaluations of scientific institutions and scientists is the provision of appropriate conditions for conducting research work. This includes investment in the research structure and people, employment of scientists appropriate to the needs to make maximum use of the capacities of new infrastructures, and the introduction of regular tenders by the Croatian Science Foundation. Dr. Novotna added that the great success of CEITEC would not have been possible without prior investment in infrastructure from EU funds and without accompanying infrastructure projects of the Czech government, which largely finance the operating costs of CEITEC's core units. She also cited the Czech example where researchers who received high marks in ERC competitions but did not receive research funding, automatically receive funding from a Czech government project.

The need for evaluation to be carried out by external evaluators was emphasized to achieve objectivity in a small scientific community such as Croatia. The panelists agreed that the topic of brain drain is closely related to the working conditions of researchers, and the need for better communication between scientists and relevant ministries was highlighted to systematically solve the problems faced by scientists in Croatia and to create a framework for reaching more developed EU countries.

The second topic of the round table was "Biomedical research center Šalata - BIMIS - platform for implementing the results of the Alliance4Life_ACTIONS project".

The introduction to the discussion was the presentation of three examples of infrastructure projects that are in various stages of implementation. The first presentation was given by Jiří Nantl, M.Sc., director of CEITEC, who presented the organizational structure of CEITEC and its development, from the planning and designing of the infrastructure, which started in 2007, all the way to today's goals and challenges faced. Professor Tomaž Marš, from the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Ljubljana presented an infrastructure project consisting of three medical campuses: Vrazov trg, Zaloška and Korytkova, for which Slovenia will receive financial resources from the National Recovery and Resilience Plan. Construction should be completed in the first half of 2026. Professor Srećko Gajović presented the infrastructure project of the UZSM "BIMIS - Knowledge for Health", emphasizing that BIMIS will increase capacities and mutually integrate scientific and research activities whose services will be available to all interested scientists, which aim to improve the scientific activities of not only the UZSM but also the entire Croatian scientific community.

After the presentations, a discussion followed, in which, in addition to the mentioned lecturers, panelists were Professor Zoran Đogaš, Vice-chancellor of the University of Split, Professor Bojan Polić from the School of Medicine, University of Rijeka, and Professor Nada Čikeš, Professor Fran Borovečki, Professor Filip Sedlić, Professor Maja Čikeš, and Assistant Professor Monika Ulamec, all from the UZSM. Mr. sc. Jiří Nantl, when asked how CEITEC enabled the "period of sustainability" in the period from 2016 to 2020 during which they were financially supported from the national level, emphasized that it is necessary to plan for financial sustainability from the beginning. Sources of funding for projects such as CEITEC and BIMIS go through various development stages, and for each of them, in addition to logistical-operational processes, it is important to consider the final goal, which is the achievement of self-sustainability, which CEITEC achieved 10 years after " moving into the building". Professor Srećko Gajović emphasized that for sustainability, the quality of the people who work in such an infrastructure is more important than the building itself. BIMIS is a joint project in which our young scientists will have at their disposal modern working conditions in terms of space and technology, which will enable them to be up-to-date, in all aspects, of relevant and recent scientific achievements. Professor Nada Čikeš emphasized that the cooperation of BIMIS members on the Alliance4Life project and the establishment of the Alliance4Life_Actions project significantly improves the preconditions of BIMIS for the implementation of organizational reform, which ensures its place among the projects of strategic importance for the Republic of Croatia. The concept and management of the Alliance4Life project will contribute to the adoption of work methods and organizational reforms foreseen by the BIMIS project. Representatives of the young scientists of the School of Medicine in Zagreb (UZSM), and all the "future tenants" of BIMIS, answered the question of what BIMIS means to them and how BIMIS will help them in conducting their scientific research.

At the end of the Round Table, the participants agreed that the open topics and expressed thoughts should be shared with the Dean's Conference of Medical Faculties in the Republic of Croatia, and with the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts, its two classes, for natural sciences and for medical sciences, whose academics participated at the Round Table, with the aim of starting a broader discussion on improving the quality and impact of Croatian biomedical science. The example of CEITEC, and the Czech Republic, is an excellent example of cooperation between decision-makers and the scientific community and recognition of the importance of scientists in the progress of each country.

The success of this endeavor is based on the mutual cooperation and help of all present and the joint efforts of their institutions, to harmonize the needs of scientists with the needs of the science system at the national and European levels. Joint efforts create a culture of excellence and establish an environment that allows scientific activity to keep pace with the best in Europe. From the perspective of the Croatian biomedical scientific community, new infrastructures are necessary for the development of science, that is, for reaching the scientific results of more advanced countries, and EU membership gives us great opportunities in this sense. However, people are even more important for progress, i.e. financing employment and the sustainability of new infrastructure facilities and equipment.

The main conclusions of the Trigger Event, the goals of joint action should be aimed at:

- the importance of bringing together academic institutions, research institutes, and the relevant ministry in such discussions because of different views on the same things and making decisions that are useful for everyone, and because of the exchange of information on various topics about which some know more than others,

- based on the example of countries that invest more in science and are more successful in obtaining EU projects (HORIZON), creating conditions for young people to return to their homeland after a stay abroad, which is necessary for scientists.

- ensuring objective evaluation, connecting institutions to international associations/alliances such as A4L, which enables the mutual exchange of experts, and ensuring a sufficient number of reviewers for such assessments (database of experts).