RUSSIA: Fears over restrictions on foreign involvement

Fears that St Petersburg University was planning to introduce tight controls on academic foreign involvement were eased after authorities said researchers in areas with no national security implications would be exempt.

Senior academics at the institution - one of Russia's most prestigious seats of learning -objected last month after an internal university document detailing new restrictions on publishing work overseas and cooperating with foreign universities was leaked to a popular Russian internet forum.

The document - a decree allegedly signed by Rector Nikolai Kropachev - required all university employees to submit any material relating to contacts with foreign universities, funders or publications to an 'export commission' for vetting for security implications.

Many in the university saw the decree as a return to Soviet-style censorship and control. One academic, who wished to remain anonymous, told Russia's internet site Chtodelat News: "Although it has tremendous intellectual resources that include longstanding, serious traditions and a multitude of outstanding specialists, the Russian higher education system now finds itself in the midst of a profound crisis."

The crisis was provoked by a number of factors but one of the most serious is the continuing isolation of Russian scientific and scholarly research, especially in the social sciences and the humanities.

Russian scholars are generally poorly acquainted with foreign-language publications in their respective fields - in part because the literature cannot be accessed in Russian libraries - and they have little motivation to publish their own work in leading western journals since, from the viewpoint of the Higher Attestation Commission, the Bulletin of Saratov State University has the same weight in assessing a scholar's accomplishments as American Political Science Review, Philosophie or History and Theory.

With the furore reaching the pages of international newspapers, including the New York Times, the university backed down. It said the new procedures would apply only to research using "dual use technology" - non-military techniques that could have military applications.

Control procedures in these areas would not "create some ban or limitation on international travel, participation in international conferences or cooperative work with foreign scholars", the university said, adding that "intense interest of the media apparently stems from insufficient information about the real state of affairs".