Deputy Minister Gzik: Science must be interdisciplinary

Deputy Minister Gzik: Science must be interdisciplinary

It is not the most important thing for Polish science to have a new Nobel Prize winner, although of course it would be a great ennoblement for Polish science. The most important thing is that the growing expenditure on science, which also allows for an increase in salaries, should stop the outflow of young staff: says the Deputy Minister of Science and Higher Education, Prof. Marek Gzik,

Shortly after the establishment of the European Center for Innovative Technologies for Health at the Silesian University of Technology (European HealthTech Innovation Center), a modern research and development center, you said that in 20 years the Nobel Prize would come out of the Polish research and development center. Do you maintain this when you became deputy minister of science?

I would love for this to happen, but to make it possible, first of all, we must financially support all Polish science. Already from January 2024, the amounts allocated to science and development have been significantly increased – from PLN 31 billion to PLN 38 billion. This is a positive trend; I hope that it will last and bring results in the future.

Perhaps it is not the most important thing for Polish science to have a new Nobel Prize winner, although of course it would be a great ennoblement for Polish science. The most important thing is that the growing expenditure on science, which also allows for an increase in salaries, should stop the outflow of young staff. This is a challenge for today, because over the last few years, the ratio of remuneration in science-related centers to remuneration in industry has been poor. Science was not very competitive, which resulted in the outflow of talented young people from scientific circles.

However, I will return to the potential Nobel Prize – if we were thinking about it, what areas should we as a country focus on developing? What fields of science – especially those related to medicine – are developing well and have the greatest potential?

I believe that new technologies developed in medicine are primarily information technologies. There are several strong Polish IT companies that use scientific resources applicable in medicine. For several years now, the world has been dynamically developing, for example, the use of artificial intelligence algorithms in image data processing. Poland is participating in this race, we hope that our companies will continue to develop and compete also on international markets.

So artificial intelligence. What else? Robotics, bionic prostheses – are these directions of development in which we can conquer the world, but also simply help Polish patients?

When it comes to artificial intelligence, we have a number of companies and research centers that deal with it with great success. When it comes to bionic prostheses, Western companies are currently much more advanced. Although we have dynamic Polish companies that develop this technology, cooperating with, among others, with Ukraine, where there are huge needs when it comes to helping war victims. Our companies have been operating for a relatively short time, and here you need to build a team to develop the most modern solutions. The outlays must also be significant, because creating a bionic prosthesis means a number of problems to solve, starting with the construction and material selection.

You have been combining engineering with medicine in your work for years. Is combining scientists from various fields an idea for the development of science?

Science has become multidisciplinary. Today, medicine does not exist without technology. Microscopes, diagnostics, tomography, resonance imaging, ultrasound are an extension of the doctor's visual organ – this is the “eye” with which a person looks deep into the body thanks to technologies. The precision of surgical procedures would not be possible today without technology. Robotics, biomedical engineering, and rehabilitation are also developing devices that support the physiotherapist to restore fitness. If we look at health care, in this entire sphere – from a healthy lifestyle, through prevention, diagnostics, treatment, rehabilitation, home care – technology counts in all these areas. There are maps of health needs, we see multi-morbidities, the problem of an aging society, and at the same time we want the autumn of life to be of appropriate quality. We are talking about deinstitutionalization of care, so that elderly and disabled people can stay in their places of residence for as long as possible, and so that there are as few people in nursing homes as possible. Technologies can help us with all this.

Caring for people who require physical involvement puts a lot of strain on the spine; There are a number of solutions that can help here. Today, medicine in all areas uses achievements in technology, pharmacy and biotechnology. Science must be multidisciplinary.

What would you like to change as deputy minister when it comes to Polish science? I see the basic problem. I am a professor at the Silesian University of Technology, I was the dean, the rector's representative for cooperation with industry, I was also a member of a number of scientific institutions and councils. So I have quite a lot of experience and I must say that the biggest problem today is retaining the most talented people in scientific institutions.

If, as a country, we do not start financing the most talented people and creating an attractive space for their professional development, we will never achieve a decent level of education and we will continue to lose because talented young people go to industry or go abroad. Cooperation with business is still at an unsatisfactory level. At the Ministry of Science, we will establish a team to monitor cooperation between science and business.

It is also about ensuring that scientists' ideas that arise during research translate into implementation?

We have a loophole here. There is the National Science Center, established to carry out basic research. In turn, the activities of NCBiR and cooperation with business are intended to lead to the commercialization of scientific ideas. We lack something that should be somewhere in between: the means to turn scientific ideas into prototypes. We are working in the ministry to find a certain pool of funds that would finance applied research programs, which would fill the gap between basic research and the commercialization of more advanced ideas, which is handled by NCBiR, PARP, and regional institutions, such as the Silesian Center for Entrepreneurship, which as part of European funds for the Silesian Voivodeship, it has funds for the development of innovative production.

There are few doctors, or rather the entire medical staff, in Poland, considering the needs of an aging society. Will the recently opened medical faculties at non-medical universities be closed, or will the ministry want to support them to ensure an appropriate level of medical education?

The mere fact that there is a shortage of doctors cannot be a reason to depart from certain principles of education. We want to educate more doctors because we see that there is a need. Unfortunately, medical universities were not previously supported, but doctors were given a free hand to educate at new universities, without requiring them to ensure the appropriate quality of education. The universities did not meet the requirements of the Polish Accreditation Committee, and yet they received permission to launch medical courses. We have great concerns that the level of medical education could suffer, which will be a problem for patients.

Our goal is not to close these universities; if they meet the requirements that guarantee the quality of teaching, we will not withdraw their licenses. We are planning audits soon and a strict assessment of whether universities have fulfilled their declarations. If not, we will take away their licenses and transfer the students to other universities. We will make sure that they go to good universities, which will be beneficial for them and certainly for the benefit of patients.

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