Applied social sciences have a relatively long tradition in Serbia. Approximately 3,000 researchers are working in this field of science; the main mandate for research is with 18 social science and humanities research institutes, but increasingly university faculties are becoming active in research too. There is a growing number of think tanks that are conducting research in the field of social sciences.
Funding of social science research institutes and faculties comes mainly from the state, while the work of think tanks is generally donor funded. The annual Government budget allocated to social science research runs to around 18 Mio Euro.
The potentials of social sciences in Serbia, however, are not recognised and are underused. While the challenges to Serbian society are very high as the country is moving through transition from a centrally planned, socialist system to a society that is based on democratic values and institutions, the contributions from social sciences to complex reform processes are very limited. What are the main factors that currently restrain developments towards an effective social science and research system? Our systems analysis is pointing to these issues:
- Dialogue and cooperation among social scientists and their institutions are weak. Knowledge sharing and critical exchange are limited. Organizational structures in the community and cooperation within these structures are underdeveloped. The community tends to be very closed and self-referential
- Incentives within the system do not promote excellence and collaboration with the policy domain, civil society and the media.
- A lack of mutual understanding and a relatively high degree of distrust between both sides. The social science sector tends to orbit around itself and is self-referential.
- The current evaluation system for government-funded research projects does not promote accountability nor does it contribute to supporting excellence. The proposed research projects bear little relevance to the agenda of the government and civil society.
- Government funding for social sciences is low, and the little money that is available, is not spent effectively.
On the other side, there are numerous opportunities, that potentially can support an increased relevance of social sciences:
EU accession and a new governance system
The negotiation process for the EU membership has started. A separate chapter relates to science and research and the government has to adjust the country’s system
Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development (MoESTD) is open to change
The Ministry has set a priority to adjust its systems to increase efficiency, effectiveness and relevance of social science research
Numerous actors within the government system recognize the need for more evidence in policy development
Groups in the social science research community are eager to drive change
Initiatives among social science researchers already exist that drive for high quality and relevance. The Regional Research Promotion Programme played an important catalytic role in that.
The discussion on relevance and value of social sciences and research to society has started in Serbia, and social sciences will be increasingly challenged to respond.