Next month, Spaniards are called to vote at general elections. Again. This is the fourth time in the last four years. Several state bills and pending reforms have been paralyzed and left ‘sine die’ amidst political instability. Other crucial matters are not even discussed by the parliament nor the public, as daily political squabbling drains institutional energy whilst hogging media attention.
Science is also caught in the standstill. Despite representing one of the countries that generated most research output in Europe (top 5) and the world (top 10) last year, R&D investment in Spain has fallen by 5.8% this decade, whereas average EU investment grew 22%. Such a drop has not resulted exclusively from normal budgetary cuts; in fact, not even half of all public expenditure earmarked for R&D is actually spent. This means that, for every 10€ the government intends to invest in science, usually 6 or 7€ come back the way they went every year, due to a combination of poor planning, nightmarish bureaucracy and political disinterest.
It is true that Spanish PhD candidates have something to celebrate this year, as in March they finally achieved one of their longest-standing demands: a ‘Predoctoral Workers Regulation Act’ that fixes minimum salaries and social security perks for all doctoral candidates working under a Spanish labor contract. Unfortunately, this is where the joy ends for the average Spanish scientist, as the rest of their postdoctoral career is usually plagued with instability and uncertainty. Too often, the only way out of precarity is to find a way out of the country. Whereas postdoc positions are becoming ever more competitive, Spanish postdoctoral workers have lost 20% of their purchasing power in the last decade. And while budgetary support for public universities continues to weaken, opportunities for attracting talented scientists and ensuring staff renewal have halted for years now. Nowadays, the average public researcher in Spain (university or CSIC) is well over 50. Regarding the private sector, Spanish R&D-related enterprises simply cannot match the volume and quality of the opportunities available for talented Spanish researchers in neighboring EU countries. The result is a lingering ‘brain drain’, which especially affects early-career researchers.
In the face of new general elections, Spanish Federation of Early-Career Researchers (FJI/Precarios, Spanish member of Eurodoc) has decided to push research to the front lines of the political agenda. We have launched an intense awareness-raising campaign, including informative YouTube videos, a Change.org letter addressed to the election candidates (that we encourage readers to sign), reaching out to the Spanish media and other diverse actions. These aim to rally supporters for a final demonstration (that will closely resemble a “March for Science”) ending at the very gates of the National Parliament. Ultimately, we aim to achieve a political compromise to increase Spanish R&D investment from 1.2% of the national GDP to at least 2% during the next term. Next 19th October, the voice of Spanish science will be heard in the streets of Madrid. #EnMarcha19O
Guillermo Varela Carbajal, Spanish Delegate and Eurodoc General Board Member.