BACK TO THE FEATURE INDEX

Since their introduction in the late 1950s, the NATO Science Fellowships have helped thousands of scientists around the globe to collaborate with each other, by offering them the means to visit foreign scientific institutions. However, changes in the world's political balance have led to various shifts in priorities for the NATO Science Programme as a whole, in turn calling for the fellowships to evolve to meet these needs.

NATO is by nature a political and military intergovernmental organisation. However, it also deals with civil co-operation. For this reason the NATO Science Programme, aimed at fostering co-operation among scientists in NATO countries,* was established in 1958. At this time, two political powers were confronting one another, and it was considered essential to strengthen links among scientists in the West in order to counterbalance a well-structured scientific community in the East. However, following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, scientific institutions in Russia and other former Soviet countries were no longer receiving governmental support due to a dramatic drop in resources for science and technology, and many scientists lost their jobs.

Post-Cold War changes

During this period, a new role was identified for the NATO Science Programme. That was to provide resources to the scientific communities of the former Soviet Union countries, in order to support their activities at home and exchanges with colleagues abroad. This was made possible within the context of a political decision taken by NATO in 1994 that led to the creation of the Partnership for Peace Programme.

Through this initiative, former "antagonist" countries became Partners of NATO and, in practical terms, became eligible for support and co-operation in many fields, including scientific co-operation

The Fellowships Programme was set up as one way of promoting scientific collaboration. Funding was available for all natural scientific and engineering disciplines for junior (PhD and postdoc positions) and senior fellowships. The length of the individual fellowship varied between 2 months and 1 year.

The former Scientific Affairs Division of NATO had overall control of the Fellowships Programme, with the day-to-day management (e.g., budget allocation, selection of candidates, payment of awards) being delegated to "National Administrators." These normally belonged to the main scientific institutions of each participating country (for instance, the Royal Society in the United Kingdom, DAAD in Germany, the National Science Foundation in the United States, and the National Research Council in Italy.

However, the story doesn't end here. Recently, many dramatic events have completely changed the overall political situation in the world: Terrorism and threats to security are now of major concern to our societies and are, consequently, at the top of NATO's agenda. A large restructuring process has taken place within NATO, affecting both its scope and its organisational framework. This has also affected the Science Programme, where two significant changes have occurred very recently.

First, NATO is still funding co-operation in science and technology, but only for projects related to security and involving research teams of NATO and Partner countries.? Second, the NATO Science Fellowships Programme has been discontinued since the beginning of this year, to be replaced by a new form of funding, the Reintegration Grant, which is intended to enable the return of expatriated Partner country scientists to their home countries.

Many excellent scientists from Partner countries find better job opportunities and economic rewards in Western countries. It is understandable that they take up position abroad and perhaps have no incentive to return. However, although this may be personally beneficial to the scientist, it can cause their native country to become increasingly weaker and less competitive. By providing those scientists with sufficient means for them to establish and develop their own research teams in their home countries, NATO is hoping to reduce the "brain drain" of young scientists from Russia, Central Asia, and other Partner countries.

NATO drew on the experience of other international organisations and European research foundations, who already had similar programmes in place. Before taking the decision to implement this new system a questionnaire was also sent early last year to academics and distinguished scientists in Partner countries, asking for their opinions on the possible value and effectiveness of the proposed Reintegration Grant. The feedback on this survey was very encouraging, and, as a result, NATO fellows of Partner countries were approached, and a number of these selected to test the feasibility of the proposed new support programme.

Support for young scientists and their institutions

In practical terms, the Reintegration Grants will allow young scientists from NATO Partner countries currently working in NATO countries to return home and establish a research team in a research institution of choice. The programme is also designed to give the host institution support in facilitating the reintegration of the returning fellow. The research should be focused on a security-related NATO priority area (e.g., defence against terrorism or countering other security threats, or an agreed priority research area of the Partner country).

In order to be eligible for support, the returning fellow should have completed a research period of at least 6 months in a NATO country. The grants run for a 3-year period and are available for postdoctoral research projects and doctoral research when the candidate has completed at least 50% of their doctoral work. For the course of 2004, applications will also be accepted from scientists from new NATO member countries (Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovak Republic, and Slovenia). Application forms and guidelines for application procedures are available at our Web site.

Our concern is not just to provide support to individual scientists to allow them to progress in their professional careers. Other agencies are more suited to doing this than NATO. The ultimate goal of NATO is to contribute to stabilising societies in transition while they are facing socially and economically difficult situations.

We are fully conscious of the fact that the NATO Reintegration Grant scheme will not automatically solve problems that are far from simple. However, by aiming this initiative at young scientists who have already had the chance to receive a grant to improve their skills abroad, we believe that this will help them to make the additional important step of using their knowledge to benefit the science back in their own countries.

From NATO's perspective, this is a practical example of international co-operation, which will contribute to peace, progress, and stability.

NOTES

* NATO Countries: Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

? Partner Countries: Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Croatia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Macedonia, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan.

Dr. Fausto Pedrazzini is currently a programme director at NATO's Public Diplomacy Division. You can read about his personal career history on Next Wave .