Putin to boost science research funding by 150%

Russian President Vladimir Putin has promised to increase funding of national science by 150% over current levels by the end of the year, according to the press service of the Presidential Administration of Russia.

The increase will be applied to unallocated funding under Russia’s existing science and technology programme 2014-20, and will increase the amount available from RUB40 billion to RUB60 billion (US$644 million to nearly US$1 billion).

A significant part of the planned funding will be allocated to universities, particularly those from a list of strategic institutions that includes the Moscow State University, Saint Petersburg State University and some others.

University science development a priority

Implementing the plan is part of the Russian government’s recently announced strategy to make university science development a national priority in years to come.

Before 2017, the development of science happened mainly through the Russian Academy of Sciences and its numerous subsidiaries. But in recent years the situation has changed, with the government paying more attention to developing science in universities.

Vladimir Putin stated: “We want to ensure that the volume of state funds, allocated for basic research on the basis of domestic universities and R&D centres affiliated with [them], will increase by one-and-a-half times during the period of 2018-19.

“There is a need to reward scientists on the basis of their scientific results and activities, but not for their past endeavours.”

According to the existing federal programme for developing the scientific and technological complex, designed for 2014-20, the volume of state investments is estimated at RUB228.7 billion (US$3.7 billion).

Most of these funds have been allocated, with the remaining amount around RUB40 billion. According to the latest Putin statement, this amount will be increased by 1.5 times to RUB60 billion.

Competitive funding

Unlike in previous years, it is planned that most of the allocated funds will be provided to Russian universities on a competitive basis.

That will take place in accordance with a recent decision by the Ministry of Education and Science and the Federal Agency for Scientific Organisations, the newly created state agency for managing Russian Academy of Sciences property.

Under the terms of the new scheme, funding will be allocated on the basis of tenders. A special state commission will select the best and the most promising projects for national science, which will be implemented through Russian universities.

Not all happy

But some Russian scientists have already criticised the latest state decision.

Alexander Kuleshov, a leading mathematician and information technology expert and director of the Kharkevich Institute for Information Transmission Problems of the Russian Academy of Sciences, commented: “The increase in funding and the use of a model of competitive financing is good news.” However, he is worried that many promising researchers would not receive funding, and would be suspended or have their research frozen.

According to Eugene Onishchenko, deputy head of the Moscow University of Economics, there could be a threat of research money going to universities that have strong lobby influence within government but are not the best institutions. He added that planned tenders would not be transparent, as there would be special terms and conditions.