The reforms under way in Bulgaria's research and higher education (Nature 463, 283; 2010) are not enough. A full-scale external evaluation of the entire university system is also needed.

Among Bulgaria's newly established universities, there is not one department of mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology or engineering. Even the technical universities do not offer majors in natural sciences.

This situation has come about partly because of shortsighted decisions taken in the early 1990s, when the government closed all its research and development (R&D) institutions. No new institutions were created, and the traditional links were severed between the research sector and the industrial sector.

Public awareness of science and technology plummeted as a result. The standard of high-school teaching in mathematics and science fell from well above to below the world average. With no new blood coming in, the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences shrank by more than 50%.

Bulgaria is at the bottom of the European Union (EU) for the number of scientists and technology companies per capita, and for R&D funding as a percentage of gross domestic product. It is the only new EU member that did not negotiate direct funding for science and scientific infrastructure from EU accession funds.

We are halfway towards picking ourselves up. Last year, a commission of the European Science Foundation and All European Academies came up with invaluable guidelines for the restructuring and development of all research units in the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. The effects will be minimal unless there is a similar evaluation of the country's university system.