Contrary to what Minister Elvira Fortunato said in an interview with PÚBLICO, the €20 million allocated to universities to employ pre-tenured researchers through the FCT-Tenure program will not be “every year”. This amount is only included in the state budget for 2024, and does not become permanent – that is, if the next government wants to exclude it next year, it can do so.
In response to a question about the FCT-Tenure programme, which aims to allocate vacancies to institutions to employ scientists on fixed-term contracts (for both teaching and research positions), the Minister of Science, Technology and Higher Education indicated that a sum was included in the program in the state budget to support higher education institutions on these contracts.
“It's 20 million euros [no Orçamento] We are now looking at how to transfer them to institutions. “This €20 million stays forever,” he replied in the recently published interview. As for the meaning of “eternity,” he said: “It occurs every year.” At the moment, the amount is 20 million euros, and the idea is to increase this amount, because the scientific system is growing, there are more mouths and we need more money to feed them.
However, the Ministry of Science, Technology and Higher Education (MCTES) office clarified to the public that this funding is only guaranteed for this year. “It has been approved for 2024, and it is desirable that it be continued in the following years as a commitment to support and promote research in higher education institutions,” his response said. e-mail.
The funding mechanism to support the employment of PhDs into the scientific research profession was included in the proposal for the legislative contract for the period 2024-2027, which was defined before the fall of the government, in November last year – which, therefore, was ineffective. Therefore, this amount can only be included in the state budget for 2024. Permanent recording of these expenses could be done by including spending on science in the foundations' funding model, as proposed by Paulo Jorge Ferreira, President of the Council of Deans. Portuguese Universities (CRUP).
Now, this €20 million will be distributed by institutions only for this year, as 1,000 vacant positions have been opened to recruit these researchers.
University deans say there is a lack of guarantees
Paulo Jorge Ferreira shows some hesitation about the success of this measure, which he nevertheless considers a solution that “should be welcomed.” However, this hesitation relates specifically to financing. “If this 20 million euros disappears in the future, we will not be able to cover these additional expenses,” says the rector of the University of Aveiro.
“In the current political situation, the expected time horizon [até 2027] there is no place. Therefore, the maximum that can be guaranteed is the 2024 budget. This is what concerns university presidents.” The success of the program is not in doubt, although there are no expectations as we are in the middle of the competition, which will end on March 1.
FCT-Tenure will open competitions for research and teaching careers that will be paid in part by the Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT), the main scientific funding body in Portugal (which is dependent on the MCTES). The current competition will allocate 1,000 places to higher education institutions (an additional 400 places are expected in 2025), which will then open competitions to fill these places.
In the event of a merger with the teaching profession, the FCT will pay two-thirds of the costs during the three years of the contract – after which the institutions will bear the expenses. In a research career, the FCT will pay two-thirds of the costs for three years and one-third of the costs in the three years following the contract. The 20 million euros allocated to universities are intended to cover the costs that will be incurred in this first year. “This amount covers our part of spending in 2024,” says Paulo Jorge Ferreira. “The concern is for the other years…”
The worry of university presidents is that funding will disappear and universities will be left with perpetual expenses without boosting the funds the government puts into their institutions – a financial boost for universities has been one of CRUP's persistent demands. “Credits [orçamentais] Paulo Jorge Ferreira adds, “The state does not even cover the salaries of higher education institutions.”
The instability of scientific research is a decades-old problem in the national scientific system, with fixed-term contracts dominating science employment in Portugal. For example, since 2017, only 7.5% of new contracts in the Portuguese scientific system have been precarious, according to data collected by PÚBLICO at the Scientific Employment and Teaching Observatory.
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