Palacký University (UP) should next year be expanded by a University institute that has the potential to become the strongest scientific organization in the Czech Republic. The forthcoming Czech Institute of Science and Technology should link three existing university research centers built within Operational Program Research and Development for Innovation. Moreover, the 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 centers and enhance technology transfer. In addition to sharing activities within the new higher education institution, the research centers will continue to play a significant role in teaching and research activities at the Faculty 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 Center of Advanced Technologies and Materials (RCPTM) and the Institute of Molecular and Translation Medicine (IMM). These workplaces have been among the most powerful in the Czech Republic for a long time, among other things they succeed in the prestigious grants of the Operational Program Research, Development and Education in the Challenges of Excellence Research, Excellent Teams or Pre-Application Research with a total grant of over one billion crowns. RCPTM is the only workplace of UP where a European Research Council (ERC) grant has been investigated. Scientists who have repeatedly ranked in Highly Cited Researchers, as well as Pavel Hobza, the laureate of Czech Head national award have been working at this institute. CRH Scientific Director Jaroslav Doležel has been nominated for Czech Head award this year.
“In spite of the high scientific and grant performance of our centers, all scientific research institutions in the Czech Republic will have to face issues of sustainability and system of financing in connection with the termination of grants from the Operational Program Research, Development, and Education and ESIF. Integration of the three science centers will significantly increase their competitiveness in the European and global grant competition and will allow for their financial stability after 2020, which will have a positive impact on the whole university and its position in the world,” said UP Rector Jaroslav Miller. He added that the whole project will be presented in detail in October and November to the university public and discussed in academic platforms of individual faculties.
There is power in an alliance
Greater interconnection of research was recommended to UP also by the 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 centers have similar management, funding and evaluation mechanisms. Above all, they successfully cooperate scientifically and solve joint grant projects. Associated staff and infrastructure capacities may attract other leading international experts, strengthen internationalization, and increase the probability of success in major international competitions such as H2020 and FP9 programs. I really appreciate the idea of linking the institutes with their mother faculties, as is the case in Germany at the Max Planck institutes. Students will then be able to research under the leadership of the best experts and use state-of-the-art equipment of the institute. Close cooperation with faculties will enable career development of young scientists,” said Radek Zbořil, Director of RCPTM.
Significant strengthening of Olomouc science could also be brought about by the cooperation with IOCB, which is one of the most successful research institutes in the country. “We have been cooperating with all three Olomouc scientific centers. However, the new institute would deepen this cooperation. We are interested in using the unique infrastructure that these centers have built. Sharing of technical capacities is already happening in part, 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 makes the many times declared cooperation of universities with the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic meaningful and highly concrete form. The way to make the Czech Republic visible on the European and world scientific map leads through the interconnection of excellent research centers. 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 know-how to Olomouc colleagues, and the possibility of co-financing common infrastructure in particular for transferring the research results into practice.
Another organization interested in active cooperation with the new University institute is the 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,” says Havlík.
Strong university = strong faculties
Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, Milan Kolář, describes the partnership with the University Hospital as very open, friendly and mutually beneficial for the development of both institutions. Similar expectations are linked to the new university institute. “Organizational interconnection of UP research centers within one unit and a close cooperation with 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 recognized scientific and research institution. This will certainly be reflected in faculties and other collaborating subjects. First of all, the issue of “further positive development of the whole UP vision” is very important to me. Therefore, I agree with the establishment of a new University institute at our University, 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 centers and maternity faculties will be contracted. The institute will be headed by a Director selected in an international tender.