EAST-WEST COLLABORATION IN COMPUTER SCIENCE: BELARUSIAN EXPERIENCE

Sergey ABLAMEYKO
e-mail: sergey@sait01.plc.um.es

Institute of Engineering Cybernetics, Belarusian Academy of Sciences

Surganova str., 6, 220012 Minsk, Belarus


Abstract. Experience of Belarusian scientists to join an international scientific community, our results and difficulties on this way are shown. It was happened tremendous changes in way of thinking of scientists from fUSSR and we had to pass not easy way to join an international community. There are already positive results on this way especially in performing joint projects. This article is mainly based on experience that author and his colleagues received participating in international activity and projects. Examples of concrete results are shown through the article and special attention is paid to participation in European projects.






1.CHANGES IN 5 YEARS

As you know big changes took place in the countries of the former USSR during last 5 years. In the beginning of 1990s, the situation in science went down very quickly and there were worries that this big scientific potential could be lost. Today, the number of researches in the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) countries is reduced approximately twice in comparison with 5 years ago. The most hard situation is in applied science, many research organizations of different ministries have not money and they also can not produce a competitive product. Situation is better in educational institutes and Academies of Sciences because they receive a governmental support. But the Academies in new CIS countries have a big financial problems too. It is also connected with a conversion and a big reduction of military money that made free a big army of researchers. Civil industrial enterprises practically can not and do not want to give money for science for possible future benefits and prefer to use it for their routine needs.

The financial difficulties led to reduction of a number of scientific events held annually in the USSR. Only the more known conferences continue to held but their attendance were reduced. Attendance of international conferences in other countries is difficult due to financial difficulties.

The prestige of science was decreased. Many young and perspective researchers left science and moved to business or some other activity. If a salary of senior scientist 5 years ago was a double average salary, now it is less that the average one. It does not stimulate people to work in science.

Another obstacle prevented to demonstrate our results to world scientific community is a language. To reach a top positions and privileges in the USSR, it was not strictly necessary to have many published papers in international journals and be an internationally recognized scientist. And many scientists did not try to do it. Now they understood this necessity but fluently communicate in English and write papers in English for scientists especially of older generation is a very difficult task.

Belarusian government received in 1992 a big army of researchers and had to find money to support them. It was made enough successfully but such as in any case this not big republic could not support all scientists and engineers that remained from the USSR, and amount of scientists was reduced. 1992-1994 were enough difficult years for science and amount of scientists was reduced approximately twice. In 1995, the situation became a little more stable and now research institutes work saving main strong research groups. In this absolutely new situation, government and scientists had to find new ways for development and especially ways of earning money for their research.

My Institute - Institute of Engineering Cybernetics of the Belarusian Academy of Sciences - had also big changes during this period. In 1991, it had about 1300 researchers (including programmers, technicians and others). Now, we have about 600 researchers. The Institute performed big projects in the past and had many programmers (more than half). This part of the Institute was mainly lost such as now it is practically impossible to find big projects and orders from industry. The scientific staff of the Institute was mainly saved and continue to work.


2.EAST-WEST COLLABORATION IN SCIENCE

In the 1980s, the USSR Academy of Sciences had agreements with Academies and societies of many industrialized countries and all collaboration was made through these agreements. Then, in the beginning of 1990s this form of activity practically disappeared for Belarusian scientists because it became only Russian activity. New independent republics like Belarus had to start to find their own agreements that is very difficult in a current crisis in the country and general recession in the world. On the other hand, from the beginning of 1990s, the collaboration between West and East European countries took new forms such as new possibilities were appeared. Let us shortly consider the existed types of collaborations between West and East:

1.Agreements between Academies and other state structures funded from countries´ budget. This is mainly intended and used for bilateral visits. It continues to work and new agreements are signed although this process is very slow due to lack of financial resources from both sides. There appeared new types of agreements, not only between Academies. For example, Belarusian Fund of Fundamental Research signed agreements with several countries to fund joint bilateral projects. Ministry of Education has its own agreements with corresponding Ministries of other countries.

2.Bilateral agreements between research organizations that are usually not funded directly but support researchers of their home Institutes and support, sometimes partially, visit to each others. These agreements are usually useful if any application is submitted for financing of projects or fellowships. An example is an agreement between my Institute and Institute of Cybernetics of CNR (Napoli, Italy) for collaboration in Image Analysis effective from 1989 that was resigned in 1996 for the next 3-year period.

3.Projects funded from the Western side. It is usually projects that are submitted to Western Foundations and are performed by western Universities with participation of eastern scientists (not always Eastern organizations). The example could be projects funded by German DFG Foundation. Scientists of my Institute actively participate in such projects.

4.Individual grants and fellowships that Eastern scientists receive from various Western foundations. It is mainly intended to support individuals. There are NATO, USA National Research Council grants. Many European countries with their Ministries of Education extract money for such grants.

5.Funded projects from the European Commission. There appeared special programs from 1994 where East European countries could participate: TEMPUS, TACIS, INTAS, COPERNICUS, PHARE and some others. East European researchers could also participate without funding in many other Programs but it is not known for me examples of such participation in Belarus.

We counted only collaboration between scientists. There is collaboration in applied science, i.e. links between private companies developing mainly software. There are various ways of doing it like establishing joint ventures, making software for western orders that will be considered below.

Among the other new possibilities are our joining to various international associations, societies existed in a world. It usually takes money for membership in such societies but generally it could be solved in each concrete case. Examples are Belarusian society of International Association for Pattern Recognition (IAPR), Belarusian IEE Center that successfully operate on a base of the Institute of Engineering Cybernetics, and others. It allows to have updated information and participate in various events organized by these societies.

My Institute actively participates in practically all above mentioned items. We have bilateral agreements with many European Institutions. Joint papers are published with colleagues from all industrialized countries. More than 50 researchers of the IEC every year visit foreign Institutes and about 100 foreign researchers visit the IEC. There started to be organized international conferences and workshops in Belarus. For example, the IEC organized 2 Conferences and 1 Workshop in 1995 with published proceedings (partially in English).

My Laboratory - Image Processing and Recognition (LIPR) - actively participates in international collaboration during last 6-7 years. We started to write and publish our results in English approximately 6 years ago and now every year we have 10-20 papers published in international journals and proceedings of international conferences.

The LIPR has many contacts with different institutes abroad. More closer relations are established Italian organizations: Institute of Cybernetics of CNR (Napoli) and University of Napoli. The LIPR has an agreement with Department of Image Analysis of the Institute of Cybernetics of CNR (Italy) to collaborate in the field of binary image processing that is active 7 years and resigned for next three years. Besides, the LIPR scientists have joint projects and published joint papers together with scientists from Germany, United Kingdom, Japan, Italy, Sweden, Korea.

During this period, there were held scientific visits of the LIPR people to research laboratories of Italy, Sweden, Finland, Japan, United Kingdom, Singapore, Germany, France. Besides, we visited and presented our papers at conferences in Germany, Hungary, Taiwan, Poland, Japan, Czech Republic,. During last years scientists from Italy, France, United Kingdom, Germany, USA, Korea, Hungary, Poland, Norway, China and others visited the LIPR.

People of the LIPR were initiators of creating the Belarusian society of IAPR (International Association for Pattern Recognition) and now they are leaders of the society (President and Secretary). The main event organized by the Belarusian IAPR society is bi-annual Conference "Pattern Recognition and Information Processing" that hold every odd year in Minsk. The forth Conference will hold in May, 1997.

The LIPR people participate in the IEE and IEEE activity. Now there are two IEE Fellows, two IEEE Senior members and two IEE members in the LIPR. This activity allows to have our scientists many useful information, subscribe international journals with reduced cost, and many other things.


3.EAST-WEST COLLABORATION IN TECHNOLOGY

In spite of many troubles in last years, many enterprises resist and continue to work in a technological market. They found their niche in a world market and sell their products. Some of them have various projects with western companies.

There appeared many small (mainly private) companies that produce different devices, tools etc. Usually they were founded by former scientists, researchers who decided to try their forces in a small technological business. We can say that these companies survive to live and sell their products such as this area (fUSSR) represents a big market with big possibilities. Many our industrial companies have not enough money to buy western products and prefer internal ones.

It is not easy to collaborate with western companies in hardware field due to luck of qualitative hardware components, experience, money, etc. It is practically impossible to compete in this field with big western companies like Motorola, Parsytec and others.

In software production the situation is different and more optimistic. The process of computers substitution from Soviet style to western one is already finished. At present, IBM PC computers exist in a big quantity (most of them are IBM PC 486 or Pentium). Other more powerful computers like SUN, Apollo are also appeared here. All software is already transferred to these computers.

Belarusian software products developed last years have no practically any difference from western products. But it is difficult to break through into a world market due to luck of experience, ignorance of its rules, luck of money and other reasons. There are very few examples of selling Belarusian software products in a world software market. But there are many examples of joint research projects and developing software between western and our organizations.

Summarizing it is possible to define the following main directions in which East-West collaboration develops:

  1. The process of opening western companies representatives is continued and developed. They sell the western software here and also together with our programmers develop new products and sell them at the world market.
  2. Joint ventures founded by western and our companies are appeared more and more.
  3. One of the most popular way now is to make a job in Belarus having western orders.
  4. The next way is when our companies try to sell their software at international software market by themselves but it is very difficult task.
  5. There appeared more and more joint research projects between western and Belarusian research and industrial organizations.


4.PARTICIPATION IN EUROPEAN PROGRAMS

The first attempt of our participation in European projects was made in 1992 when we received an invitation to participate in project proposal for Human Capital and Mobility Program. It was a team of 7 countries and there were 2 East European countries: Belarus and Slovenia. However, in that time it was not allowed for these countries to participate in such projects and we had to leave the team.

Situation was changed in 1994, when we began to submit project proposals and participate in some European programs. University scientists mainly participate in TEMPUS, TACIS programs and Academy scientists mainly participate in INTAS and COPERNICUS programs. There are many laboratories in my Institute that have INTAS projects and some laboratories have COPERNICUS projects. My Laboratory submitted several proposals during last years and now we have two projects: VIRGOS/COPERNICUS project (1995-1996) devoted to integrated interpretation of raster and vector cartographic data; INTAS project (1995-1996) devoted to image feature extraction and representation. INTAS project is more theoretical one such as COPERNICUS project supposes a creation of system prototype and is more practical.

The COPERNICUS project called VIRGOS "Vector and image integration for remote sensing and geographical information system" is leaded by French company MATRA and includes my Laboratory, Hungarian and Rumanian companies. Participation in such projects allows for us and generally for East European scientists to reach the following aims:

The participation in VIRGOS project is very useful for us and collaboration with famous French company MATRA helps us to understand better how systems and software should be organized to satisfy western requirements.

During our participation in the VIRGOS project we can tell about some difficulties that we met on this way. Payment for the project comes with some delay. We received a little advanced payment that was fully spent for a trip of two our colleagues in France. Then, the payment for the first stage came after 6 months from the end of the first stage (it was after one year from the project beginning). So, the first year we had to work by using our own money.

There are some difficulties in getting money for traveling. The problem is when received all money are immediately transferred into Belarusian rubles. Part of these money are lost during sending such it was send through third countries and part of the arrived money was taken by Belarusian government. Then, they were transferred into Belarusian rubles. These money are used for people salary without problems but there are problems to get these money for traveling. The rules for getting money for business trips are not regulated and it is necessary to overcome many difficulties to get the money. At first, it is not clear how much money could be taken such us rules are often changed. The second, Belarusian rubles should be again transferred to hard currency and taken as cash money. There is again some lost in it. Then, it is a little bit difficult to take out (abroad) money in cash to pay for hotel, living expenses, etc. If amount of money exceeds 500 US$ it is necessary to have a permission from bank, etc. that give additional troubles and expenses. These troubles tell us that probably the better way could be in saving part on money (for traveling) in a Western project partner (coordinator) and use them for a trip.

There were some troubles with buying equipment (computers). There are some restrictions from European Commission that they can pay for computers not full price but some reduced one depending on various factors. Taking into account that computers are needed in the beginning of a project and that money came with some delay, we had to apply to a help of our coordinator. Finally everything has been solved positively. There were not other problems and finally we receive a big satisfaction participating in this project.

5. FUTURE PROSPECTS

Generally, we can say that a period of tremendous changes is finished and Eastern groups adapt to live in new conditions. Of course, still there are groups that do not see the strong necessity to join the international community but most of groups understand it. They started to publish their results in international journals and conferences.

It is possible to see that situation in science becomes to be a more stable. In spite of all mentioned negative features, a core of the scientists is saved and continue to work. It is clear that government supports science. Most of scientists who remained in a science, are real scientists. The first international conferences started to hold in Belarus. The first joint west-east projects funding by EC, NATO and national foundations started to develop. Systems and especially software produced by our researchers began to appear at world market.


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