Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has announced a batch of new funding to "modernize higher education in Russia." The money, totaling some $1.3 billion, will support a string of new universities, provide grants to researchers, and boost research infrastructure.
In line with the government's recent policy on research, the money is focused on applied science. "It is important for us to orientate scientific research at Russian universities towards the development of technologies which are in demand in the real economy and to boost cooperation between business and higher education," Putin said in an 8 April speech at Novosibirsk State Technical University. As a result, Putin added, the government expects "serious return on its investment, [including] patents for inventions and the creation of small productive enterprises." Although researchers welcome the new funding, many bemoan the continuing lack of support for fundamental research.
And they point out that channeling money into universities, rather than the better equipped Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS), could be a mistake.
A large chunk of the new money will go to supporting five new federal universities created last year: the Northern Federal (Arctic) University in Arkhangelsk, the Urals University in Yekaterinburg, Kazan University, the North-Eastern University in Yakutsk, and the Far-Eastern University in Vladivostok. Each one will get about $13 million per year for 3 years, Putin said. As "autonomous establishments," however, the universities receive no more than 60% of their funding from the central government.
Some $400 million of the new funding will be distributed as grants to researchers, and about $645 million will support R&D infrastructure and larger research teams. The grants will not be given to institutions, Putin says, but to "researchers who present the most promising and interesting projects in terms of Russian science and economy." The government is ready to subsidize as much as 50% of the cost of projects that lead to new products, Putin added.
Although the audience in Novosibirsk welcomed Putin's presentation, some researchers were skeptical. Academician Mikhail Ugryumov of the Anokhin Institute of Normal Physiology in Moscow believes that the emphasis on university science is "useless and admittedly doomed to failure." Although RAS employs just 14% of Russia's scientists, he says, it produces between 55% and 70% of all research publications. The institutes also generate 25% of all patents, he adds, despite patenting not being a priority.
Ugryumov believes the government's proposed measures are insufficient to restore Russian science. "I think, to make RAS science competitive with European science, funding should be raised by about 10 times." In comparison, he says, "university research, which has proved extremely effective elsewhere in the world, would require even bigger expenditures in Russia—hundreds of times more, since there is no infrastructure and proper equipment there."