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Diana Morant, Minister of Science: “We must give stability to scientists blocked by the crisis”

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The Spanish scientific community has been suffering cuts for more than a decade, losing talent and surviving on the basis of precariousness. The science law reform, approved by the Council of Ministers last week, aims to solve some of the structural problems that have plagued the country’s scientists for years. “Spanish science needs a crash plan after a decade of obsolescence“, argues, forcefully, Diana Morant, Minister of Science and Innovation, in an interview with EL PERIÓDICO.

The science law reform proposes new measures to reduce precariousness in the Spanish scientific system. Scientific societies value these advances positively, but they argue that a much deeper change would be needed. What would you reply?

First of all, I want to say that I understand where this feeling of unease and mistrust comes from. We have been turning our backs on scientists for a long time and now, thanks to this law, we want to reach out to them again. This legislative reform intends to repair the great failures of the Spanish scientific system. For example, shielding science funding by law, reducing bureaucratic burdens and improving labor rights for researchers. We have changed many things. This is not the law of the Ministry of Science, it is a collective law in which scientific communities, associations, unions and business associations have participated. We hope that in one or two years all these changes will begin to bear fruit.

“We have been turning our backs on scientists for a long time and now, thanks to this law, we want to reach out to them again”

Is this law the only tool proposed to fix the Spanish scientific system?

It is only a part. We are deploying various policies to fix the structural problems of Spanish science. The great news of this law is the certainty that, from now on, the science budget will grow. The goal is to invest 1.25% of GDP in public science in 2030. And up to 3% of GDP including the private sector. Spanish science needs a crash plan after a decade of obsolescence. Between 2011 and 2016, the cutbacks destroyed more than 5,000 public research positions in Spain. Now, instead, we propose a totally opposite recipe. We implement replacement rates of 120%, so for every ten scientists who retire, twelve will be replaced. We must give more stability and opportunities to a whole generation of scientists that was blocked by the crisis.

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One of the pending tasks left by this law is to draw up a plan to reverse the brain drain.

Yes. And we are totally aligned with this concern. We need to reach out to all those professionals who had to emigrate from Spain, who have enormous talent, who have gained a lot of experience abroad and who now want to return to Spain. We are convinced that the best way to recover them is to fix the system. With more budget, better facilities and more opportunities. The more prestigious our laboratories are, the more opportunities they will have to return. In the final text of the law we collect one of the great claims of this group. The new law recognizes all the experience accumulated abroad in order to gain access to a public position. We are also working on a specific plan to get the return of scientific talent that had to emigrate.

“We are working on a specific plan to get the return of scientific talent that had to emigrate”

With this law also takes off the Spanish Space Agency. What can we expect from this project?Space is a place of opportunities for science and research. For this reason, the Spanish Space Agency is going to be the one that coordinates and promotes all the activities that have to do with this sector. From telecommunications projects to earth observation projects. Spain is a country that believes in the space sector and that knows that we are facing an emerging industry where we have many capacities and many potentialities.

Speaking of space, the European Space Agency has launched a call to recruit the next generation of astronauts. Any hope of getting another Spanish astronaut?

I wish we had one or two more Spanish astronauts, of course. And hopefully one of them is a woman. We are following the selection process very closely and we know that it is proving to be very complicated. Of the 23,500 initial applicants, about 1,300 were Spanish. In the second phase we know that at least 67 of those selected are Spanish. We still don’t know who has made it to the third phase but we have high hopes.

The big science news we expect this year is the hipra vaccinewhich if it passes the clinical trials could become the first Spanish against covid-19.

Go ahead with all my appreciation to the Spanish lines of research that dared to take on this challenge. In the case of Hipra, in addition, it must be recognized that part of the success has to do with the public-private collaboration that has led a leading veterinary company to research and develop a vaccine against covid-19. Right now, the vaccine is in the final phase of testing. The company tells us that there are hospitals where they have already reached the necessary number of volunteers, but others where there is still a lack of people. So I would like to take the opportunity to appeal to everyone who is willing to participate in this clinical trial and that their booster vaccine is the Hipra vaccine. Science is not possible without volunteers.

Scientific societies denounce that, until now, Spanish science has had to survive in a sea of ​​precariousness. Any final message you want to send to the scientific community?

This country is indebted to science and paying off that debt involves recognizing rights and giving new opportunities to our scientists. That is what the reform of the science law consists of, as well as all the policies deployed. We are aware that without science, without innovation, there will be no future. The scientific and innovative staff is an essential and priority staff. In short, by fixing the system we will ensure that our scientists have opportunities in our country and do not have to continue fleeing or being blocked by a system that until now did not pick up the glove.

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