RUSSIA: Drive to lure foreign scientists begins

The Russian government has launched an 11 billion ruble (US$360 million) drive to attract foreign scientists to work in local universities to enhance the international competitiveness of the country's domestic science and higher education. The scientists are being lured with research grants expected to range from three million rubles up to 150 million rubles.

The final decision about the size of grants will be taken by the Council on Grants of the Russian government, which will also determine the tasks of future researches.

Vladislav Surkov, deputy head of the Russian Presidential Executive Office, said the project was part of a policy aimed at creating an innovation economy in Russia.

He said: "Russian scientists have been outclassed by their Western and Eastern counterparts. We need the internationalisation of domestic science and education. All major universities and research centres around the world are international in terms of their teaching staff and students, providing core benefits primarily to those countries where they are located."

All of the grants are expected to be provided to universities where the scientists will be based rather than to individuals. But universities will only be able to spend the funds with the consent of the leading scientist.

According to Russian Marker business newspaper, it is expected that all Russian universities will be able to take part in the competition.

The number of scientific studies that may be conducted on the basis of one university is not limited. However each scientist will be able to participate only in one project.

Each scientist will be responsible for the outcomes of the research and will be required to form a research team from members of teaching staff of the partner university.

This team is expected to be formed from at least two PhDs, three postgraduates and three students. No more than 60% of the grant may be spent as remuneration for the scientist and team members.

The total cost of the project is estimated at 11 billion rubles. This year the amount of grants is expected to reach three billion rubles, while next year it will amount to five billion and to four billion in 2012.

Andrei Fursenko, the Minister of Education and Science, said part of the funds has already been allocated and added that the council has already selected 40 scientists who will be given the first six billion rubles.

Russian scientists generally support the idea of attracting foreign scholars as well as Russian scientists working abroad, but stress that the right conditions need to be created to allow them to carry out their work.

Professor Fedor Bogomolov of New York University told a recent international conference in St Petersburg on scientific diasporas and the future of Russian science: "The material aspect is still very important, but money is not always the main thing for scientists.

"There are many scientists who are ready to work for little money, having only an opportunity to pursue science. However they all still need support, because these people are very important for science."

Professor Efim Zelmanov of the University of California, San Diego, believes that Russia needs to develop a system of grants, but to spend money not only on established scientists, but also on graduate students.