Tuesday, 4 February 2020

EU Research Ministers Hold Informal Meeting in Zagreb

ZAGREB, February 4, 2020 - Croatian Science and Education Minister Blaženka Divjak said at an informal meeting of EU ministers in charge of research that brain circulation should remain one of the EU's cornerstones.

"We are encouraging mobility because those who are mobile and have experience from other countries bring that experience with them when they return. That way they make it possible for the system to be developed for the best, but we also want to attract others to work in Croatia," Divjak said at the meeting focusing on cooperation and researcher exchange and the future of the European Research Area.

European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth Mariya Gabriel said that not all countries benefited the same way from brain circulation in Europe.

We must reduce those differences between member states and promote international cooperation between researchers, she said.

Gabriel said that the budget for the Horizon Europe development and innovation programme would be increased, with original allocations amounting to around 3.3% of the EU budget, and that the Maria Sklodowska Curie research scholarship programme would continue as well.

Phillippe Busquin, European Commissioner for Research and Development, during whose term the European Research Area was established 20 years ago, said that before the establishment of the European Research Area brain drain from the EU to the USA had been much greater and that the EU had grown stronger as a science-research centre since.

More news about Croatia and the EU can be found in the Politics section.

Sunday, 19 January 2020

Education Minister to Present Curricular Reform at Education World Forum

ZAGREB, January 19, 2020 - Science and Education Minister Blaženka Divjak will present Croatia's curricular reform at the Education World Forum in London on Monday, and on Tuesday and Wednesday, she will be in Brussels to present the sector priorities of Croatia's EU presidency in the European Parliament (EP) and attend the 12th European Space Conference.

At the Education World Forum, Minister Divjak will be speaking about the goals of the curricular reform in Croatia, the results of its experimental stage and the course of the education reform, her ministry said on Sunday.

During her stay in Brussels on Tuesday and Wednesday, Divjak will inform members of the EP's committees on culture and education and industry, research and energy about the priorities of Croatia's EU presidency in the sector of education, research and space.

On Tuesday, Divjak will attend the 12th European Space Conference, where she will speak about Croatia's position and goals of its EU presidency in the development of the space sector of the EU and Europe in general.

Special emphasis will be put on the need for a complementary specialisation of all member-states in the development of space technologies and the importance of the space sector in dealing with the burning problems of today, such as climate change. Emphasis will also be put on the sector's role in encouraging research and innovation and motivating young people with regard to the choice of their future profession, the ministry said.

More news about curricular reform can be found in the Lifestyle section.

Thursday, 16 January 2020

Parliament Debates Motion for No-Confidence Vote in Education Minister

ZAGREB, January 16, 2020 - Parliament on Wednesday night held a debate on an opposition motion for a no-confidence vote in Science and Education Minister Blaženka Divjak, with Prime Minister Andrej Plenković saying he would persevere in the education reform which, he added, represented a unique strategic step forward.

The government previously dismissed the motion signed by 31 opposition MPs led by the Social Democratic Party. The opposition demanded a no-confidence vote in Divjak because of the situation in the education system, the non-implementation of the education reform and her responsibility for the longest teachers' strike in Croatia.

Plenković said that during his government, the Science and Education Ministry's budget was raised from 13.8 billion kuna to 18.6 billion kuna and that 40 new curricula were introduced.

As for the teachers' strike, he said an agreement was reached with the education unions that salaries would go by 23.5% by October.

Divjak said the opposition motion was politicking, that she had improved the system and that the curricular reform was being implemented in all schools.

"We have received three positive reports from the European Commission which assessed the reform as ambitious and done according to plan," she said, adding that 90% of parents said they were pleased that their children were included in the experimental education programme.

More education news can be found in the Lifestyle section.

Monday, 30 December 2019

EU Presidency Opportunity for Croatia to Highlight Important Issues

ZAGREB, December 30, 2019 - Science and Education Minister Blaženka Divjak on Monday underscored that Croatia's presidency of the Council of the EU was an opportunity for Zagreb to highlight the topics it finds important and to present itself as a country of professional and creative people.

Presenting priorities in education and science during Croatia's presidency, Minister Divjak explained that the role of its presidency "is not just to pursue one's own policies but to objectively conduct the EU's policies" however, it is an opportunity to recognise those topics that Croatia has been working on for a long time, she said.

Research and space technology are in the Council's remit and one of the priorities is brain circulation and jobs of the future that are related to space technology.

Brain drain is a huge problem for Croatia and similar countries. "Talent is equally distributed, opportunity is not," and so it is important for equalise opportunities as much as possible, it was said.

With regard to space technology, this does not refer to travelling to Mars but to industries that apply space technology and more than 10 percent of the economy is dependent on that technology, it was underscored at the news conference which the minister held.

Topics that are important for Croatia include teachers of the future, discussions on reforms and investments in education and vocational education. Another important issue is mobility that is implemented through the Erasmus+ programme.

The EU's Horizon Europe for research has 100 billion euros at its disposal.

The Erasmus+ programme, for which there are proposals to triple its funding, could be as high as 70 billion euro, while the EU proposes investing 16 billion euro to enhance the European space programme.

A total of 24 official events will be held in the remit of these two councils as will some important conferences which will include numerous institutions, agencies, universities, schools and teams of mentors.

We expect an improvement in opportunities for Croatian researchers and teachers to participate and to bring their institutions closer programme-wise, Minister Divjak said.

As an example, she noted the establishment of the European universities' network with the inclusion of three Croatian universities from Rijeka, Split and Zadar.

More news about Croatia and the EU can be found in the Politics section.

Saturday, 28 December 2019

Curricular Reform, Admission to CERN Major Events in Croatia's Education in 2019

ZAGREB, December 28, 2019 - The frontal introduction of the curriculum reform in primary and secondary schools, a record-long strike of teachers in the first semester of 2019-2020 school year, and admission of Croatia as an associate member of CERN have been some of the major events marking Croatia's education and science in the outgoing year.

Also, in 2019, the University of Zagreb marked its 350th anniversary, and six Croatian scientists at the Ruđer Bošković Institute (RBI) completed the first Croatian project within the European Research Council (ERC), while Zagreb's Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences professors and researchers were given funding from the ERC, for their project about architectural culture of the eastern Adriatic between the 15th and 18th centuries, which was thus the first Croatian humanities projects to be funded by the ERC through the Horizon 2020 programme.

The Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts (HAZU) entered 2019 with a new leadership: academician Velimir Neiderhart succeeded academician Zvonko Kusić at the helm of this institution after Kusić's two terms as the HAZU president. Neiderhart's associates are: Dario Vretenar as the HAZU secretary-general and two vice-presidents Davor Miličević and Frano Paro.

In January 2019, new curricula were adopted to replace programmes introduced in Croatian schools 25 years ago.

As of September 2019, new curricula are being implemented in first and fifth grade of primary schools, in seventh grade for subjects Biology, Chemistry and Physics and in first grade in upper secondary schools as well as in four-year vocational schools in general education subjects: Croatian, Math, Foreign Languages (German and English). Thus, as many as 150,000 pupils in are covered by the new curricula.

The strike of primary and secondary school teachers, launched over a demand for an increase in job complexity indices, lasted from October 10 to December 2, and students lost a total of 16 days of classes during the action. At the beginning of the industrial action, rotating strikes were conducted across counties, and later, a general strike was launched. The industrial action escalated in a protest rally on 25 November.

On 2 December, the government and striking teachers reached agreement on an increase of the job complexity indices of 3% as of December 1, an additional 1% as of June 1 next year and a further 2% as of January 1, 2021. The unions had demanded a pay rise through an increase of the job complexity indices of 6.11% to close the pay gap with other public-sector employees.

On 28 February, Croatia became an associate member of the world's biggest research centre, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN), at a ceremony in Zagreb at which an agreement was signed awarding Croatia the status of an associate member. The agreement was signed by CERN Director-General Fabiola Gianotti and Science and Education Minister Blaženka Divjak.

Gianotti recalled that CERN was not only the leading world research centre for particle physics but was also dedicated to development of new technologies, education and global peace-loving scientific cooperation. She noted that numerous Croatian researchers had worked and still worked at CERN and that they deserved credit for successful cooperation.

Minister Divjak spoke of some of the possibilities that would open up for Croatia with its associate membership of CERN, including access for Croatian researchers to huge databases and the exchange of knowledge, researchers and ideas.

CERN also provides an opportunity for Croatian high-tech companies to participate in tenders worth more than two billion euros annually - from construction of parts for accelerators and similar laboratory equipment to development of robotics and solutions for the analysis of huge quantities of data and artificial intelligence, Divjak said.

Attending the ceremony, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said he believed that Croatia would become a full member of CERN in a few years' time. He noted that the national economy would benefit from the country's accession to CERN. Plenković recalled that in the past two years government investment in science had increased by 29%, including money from EU funds.

The first "Science Oscar"’ was brought to the RBI by scientist Ana Smith who had been awarded a 1.5 million euro worth ERC Starting Grant for her project "MembranesAct – Biological membranes in action: A unified approach to complexation, scaffolding and active transport", and that was one of just 287 proposals selected for funding out of a record 3,329 submissions six years ago.

The five-year research project, conducted by the researcher Smith and a few young scientists, concerned membranes in living cells – structures which act at the interface of biology, material science and physics. Due to the complexity of membranes and the number of processes occurring simultaneously in their vicinity, the mechanisms driving and controlling protein transport and complexation are not well understood, though are believed to have a biophysical foundation, according to the explanation of the project which was completed in 2019.

In mid-December, Zagreb's Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences stated that the project about architectural culture of the eastern Adriatic between the 15th and 18th centuries was the first Croatian humanities projects to receive funding from the ERC. The project, led by Jasenka Gudelj of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, is one of the 78 projects selected among 674 that were submitted in the field of social sciences and humanities. The projects are financed by the ERC from a €600 million budget through the Horizon 2020 programme.

"We expect that the results of five years of work will help in safeguarding and evaluating the early medieval architectural heritage of the Adriatic. We are excited about this success and the possibilities that are opening up for us," Gudelj said. The research team includes Ana Marinković and Neven Jovanovic from the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities in Zagreb, Laris Borić from the University of Zadar and five young researchers. They will be working with the Archaeological Museum of Istria in Pula, the Croatian Museum of Architecture, the National and University Library, and other Croatian and foreign institutions.

More news about education in Croatia can be found in the Lifestyle section.

Friday, 20 December 2019

Grant Agreements Worth 126 Million Kuna Signed to Promote Excellence in Science

ZAGREB, December 20, 2019 - Grant agreements valued at 126 million kuna intended to promote excellence in science were signed in Zagreb on Friday between state institutions and 24 faculties and institutes.

Minister of Science and Education Blaženka Divjak said that there had never been so many opportunities in Croatia for investment in science and that the intention was that the best be given a chance.

Speaking about current projects, Divjak underlined that these were not only projects with a good scientific basis but with great applicability so that citizens could benefit from science.

State-Secretary at the Ministry of Regional Development and EU Funds Spomenka Đurić said that after large infrastructure projects were funded, now applied research has not been forgotten.

The Science and Education Ministry conducted the selection process for these grants and the projects were assessed by independent experts.

The projects included those relating to water purification and obtaining energy from composite material by using solar radiation, conducted by the Faculty of Chemical Engineering in Zagreb, digitisation and advancing nutritive care for chronically ill patients in the Split University Hospital, and "A new start for old Croatian vine types" conducted by the Zagreb Faculty of Agronomy.

Among the grant beneficiaries are the Faculties of Geodesy, Geotechnology, Food-Biotechnology, Nature Studies and Mathematics, Forestry and Textile Technology in Zagreb, the Faculty of Construction, Architecture and Geodesy in Split and the Faculties of Electrical Engineering, IT and Computing, Construction, Agriculture and Food Technology in Osijek.

More science news can be found in the Lifestyle section.

Wednesday, 18 December 2019

Government Dismisses No-Confidence Motion Against Education Minister

ZAGREB, December 18, 2019 - The government on Wednesday dismisses as unfounded the motion for no confidence vote in Education Minister Blaženka Divjak.

The motion, initiated by the Social Democratic Party (SDP), was signed by 31 parliamentary deputies of opposition parties.

"We absolutely reject all the allegations in the motion, including the claims about the protests of the education sector's employees and also the claims about the educational reform," said Prime Minister Andrej Plenković at the start hi his cabinet's meeting in Zagreb.

The explanation provided by the government says that the Plenković cabinet has systematically cared for the improvement of the status of teacher and other employees in the education sector.

Improvements have been made in the material status of those workers, through wards and promotions of the best employees, as well as through the improvement of safety and security at the workplace and equipment of schools, and through further training aimed at the enhancement of teachers' competences, says the government.

It also recalls that in the next 12 months the wages io the education sector's employees would rise through higher wage base and higher job complexity indices for salaries.

More news about politics can be found in the dedicated section.

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

HNS Believes Government Will Support Education Minister in Parliament Vote

ZAGREB, December 10, 2019 - Ivan Vrdoljak of the Croatian People's Party (HNS), which nominated Blaženka Divjak as Education Minister, said on Tuesday that he believed that Prime Minister Andrej Plenković would not be deluded by petty politics of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) which launched a no confidence vote against Divjak.

"I am sure that the prime minister would not fall for the politicking of the SDP," Vrdoljak told the press while coming to a meeting of the ruling coalition in Zagreb.

Asked whether the HNS would leave the coalition if the PM insisted on Divjak's resignation, Vrdoljak said that his party was concentrated on the future of the educational reform which was being politically carried out by the HNS and professionally by Minister Divjak.

The reform can be successful only if it is conducted "in this package," he added.

When asked last Friday whether he would defend Science and Education Minister Divjak from the opposition's no-confidence motion, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said "First things first."

Reporters reminded him that a few days ago he said he would wait for the motion to be filed, but Plenković said the motion was yet to be added to parliament's agenda.

More HNS news can be found in the Politics section.

Thursday, 5 December 2019

Minister Says Incorrect Information on PISA Results Spreading

ZAGREB, December 5, 2019 - Education Minister Blaženka Divjak said on Thursday that incorrect information on the results of the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) survey for 2018 and its relation to the curricular reform, was being spread in the public sphere and that this got even President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović confused.

"Unverified and incorrect information is again circulating in the public sphere, this time in connection with the results of the PISA survey and their relation to the curricular reform. It even got the President of the Republic confused," Divjak wrote on Facebook.

The PISA survey was conducted in the early spring of 2018 and the curricular reform was introduced in schools in the autumn of 2019, so the reform could not have yielded results 18 months before its introduction. Students who were covered by the survey started attending school in 2009 and studied according to the old curriculum, said Divjak.

As for investment in STEM, Divjak said that it was her ministry that had introduced computer science as a compulsory subject in the fifth and sixth grades of primary school in 2018, provided schools with equipment for computer science and science, and introduced micro computers for sixth graders.

"Apart from that, investment in school libraries has never been higher and we will continue with it very soon. I am available for information on any question or doubt, including by the President of the Republic, so that we can provide a better education for our children," the minister said.

During a visit to Varaždin's University North on Wednesday, Grabar-Kitarović expressed regret at the results of the PISA survey, saying that it proved that the curricular reform was not yielding results and that its implementation must be stepped up and more attention paid to STEM.

Croatian 15-year-old students' ability to use their reading, mathematical and science competencies to meet real-life challenges, as measured by the last PISA survey, have turned out to be below average.

More education news can be found in the Lifestyle section.

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

No Agreement Following Meeting between Education Minister and Unions

ZAGREB, November 20, 2019 - A meeting between Education Minister Blaženka Divjak and union representatives regarding the issue of making up for lost lessons during the ongoing teachers' strike did not end with any concrete results and the unions rejected Minister Divjak's proposal to at least hold classes for eighth graders and high school graduate students.

"We have to understand that entrenched attitudes will not resolve anything and we have to think about a strategy of cooperation that will enable us to work on something we all say we support. We will become a mature society when we realise that there is no alternative to the strategy of cooperation," Divjak said after the meeting.

Representatives of all three education-sector unions attended today's meeting with the education minister. The children's ombudsman was also invited but she failed to attend, which Divjak commented on by saying that very few people wanted to get involved in resolving concrete problems and that the current situation could not be resolved by only one or two people or institutions.

She underscored that she agreed with the unions that the students who were most jeopardised were eighth graders and high school graduate students who needed to complete the school year in order to enrol for further education.

"I put a proposal to the unions that lessons for eighth graders and high school graduates be organised so that we can at least ensure that lessons are not lost, as losing lessons means that exams will have to be postponed and students' further education is jeopardised. The unions did not agree," Divjak said.

The minister and unions also discussed various scenarios of how to make up for lost lessons, reschedule exams and complete the school year as well as the possibility of conducting lessons during the holidays to make up for lost time.

Commenting on Labour and Pension Minister Josip Aladrović's reaction to her comment that she did not "wish to participate in power games between the government and unions," which he described as unfair and as passing the buck, Divjak said that "the truth hurts sometimes."

"When I say that I made a recommendation to the prime minister and relevant ministers about what we can do in this situation - primarily to open a dialogue and not be entrenched and fire at each other - that is the truth. I'm ready to take on my part of the responsibility as part of the government," she said.

Divjak added that she could not make a recommendation to the unions for something that she had no backing for, which, she said, was responsible behaviour.

Asked whether she would step down, she said that she had been constructive and consistent in her work and that she would remain in her post as long as she could see that the problems could be solved and she could make a contribution.

Independent Secondary School Union leader Branimir Mihalinec told reporters that making up for the time spent on strike while the strike was still ongoing was unallowable.

He underscored that the unions presented their views of the problems, which he said were not caused by the unions or employees in education but were the consequence of irresponsible government policies.

"This is really an awkward situation. The government does not wish to solve the problem. There are no negotiations or talks. There are no indications that the strike can end and it can only end when we negotiate an offer which is that good that people will accept it," said Mihalinec.

More news about the strike can be found in the Politics section.

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