Bulgarian Parliament voted on February 6 to confirm the president of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Stefan Vodenicharov, as the next Education Minister.
His nomination gathered 111 votes in favour and 64 against, with one abstention. The votes against Vodenicharov came from the opposition parties, though MPs for opposition hurried to say that the vote was not a judgment of Vodenicharov’s personal qualities, rather a censure of the government policies in the education sphere.
Vodenicharov was elected president of BAS in December 2012, replacing Stefan Dodounekov, who died only two months after taking office in June. He took a leave of absence from BAS to join the Cabinet.
Prior to his election as president of BAS, Vodenicharov, 68, was the head of the academy’s institute for metalwork constructions and technologies. He has a degree in machine engineering from the Technical University of Sofia and became a full professor in 1991. He was elected corresponding member of BAS in 2004 and a full member in October 2012.
His nomination came as a surprise, given that he was recently on the opposite side of the barricades from the Cabinet, as head of the initiative committee in favour of building the Belene nuclear power plant (backed by the largest opposition party, the socialists).
But with elections due in the summer, Vodenicharov will have no time to stamp his vision on the legilative agenda, nor is he expected to ¬- his appointment, judging by statements from Prime Minister Boiko Borissov, is meant to overcome the conflicts between the ministry and scientific researchers.
It was a series of researchers’ protest rallies that prompted an inquest into allegations of preferential distribution of grants by the state Scientific Research Fund. The inquest found numerous irregularities and cost both Education Minister Sergei Ignatov and the Fund’s director Hristo Petrov their jobs.
After the confirmation vote, Vodenicharov said that he planned to meet all university presidents and heads of BAS research institutes by the end of the week to discuss the issue of state funding for grants and who should be appointed as the new head of the Scientific Research Fund.
(Stefan Vodenicharov. Screengrab from Bulgarian National Television)