Revamped research grants aim to entice scientists to Russia

The Russian Ministry of Science and Higher Education is proposing to update the mega-grants programme and increase the maximum amount and terms of state support for scientific research under the guidance of leading scientists.

It is planned that the value of the grants will grow from RUB30 million (US$316,600) to RUB100 million (US$1 million) per year for the duration of the grant period which ranges from three to five years. According to the Russian authorities, this increase could attract scientists who have previously left Russia.

So far, the Ministry of Science and Higher Education has prepared a draft government decree to update the mega-grants programme aimed at creating world-class research laboratories in Russian universities and scientific organisations under the guidance of leading scientists, primarily foreign citizens and compatriots living abroad.

Currently, the grant programme only runs for two years.

The grants will be allocated to projects determined by the grants board. In addition, the funds can also be received for projects led by leading scientists who decide to move permanently to the Russian Federation or stay in the country for at least six months.

The programme also provides for the allocation of grants to support research in priority areas of scientific and technological development – up to RUB50 million per year for up to five years and RUB30 million per year with a grant extension for up to three years.

Early career researchers

In a first for Russia, grants will also be provided for promising young researchers: RUB15 million per year for up to two years with the possibility of an extension for another two years.

The project stipulates that two categories of researchers will be able to participate in the updated programme: leading scientists and young scientists up to 35 years of age.

A prominent academician of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Alexei Khokhlov, said in an interview with the Russian Kommersant business newspaper, it is expected the competition among young university researchers for these grants will be high.

“As for leading scientists, funding of new university research laboratories offered by the project may be attractive both for Russian scientists who would like to start research in a new scientific field, and for foreign ones, especially for those who cannot continue research in their country due to age-related restrictions,” he said.

Competitions for such grants have been held by the Russian government since 2010. Applications were last accepted from December 2021 to the end of January 2022, before the beginning of war in Ukraine (when the programme was suspended in order to modernise it).

Based on the results, the grants council announced 30 recipients.

Later, in September last year, the Ministry of Science and Higher Education proposed to allow grant recipients to change the list of foreign partners for joint research. This was because foreign organisations began to withdraw from participation in international projects for which grants had already been allocated. The list of research participants was adjusted to include organisations from friendly or neutral countries.

‘Comfortable’ relocation

According to an official spokesman of the Russian Ministry of Science and Higher Education, despite the current geopolitical situation, in 2022, more than 50 leading scientists from 25 countries were attracted from abroad as part of the mega-grants programme, including scientists from China, India, Serbia, Egypt, the US, Australia and other countries.

The spokesman also said that the programme will help to create conditions for the comfortable relocation of foreign scientists, as it will provide assistance in obtaining visas, medical insurance, invitations for family members, payment for accommodation and travel, etc.

In the meantime, representatives of leading Russian universities have supported the new initiative.

According to Inna Shevchenko, rector of Southern Federal University, one of Russia’s leading universities, the creation of laboratories, which will be led by foreign scientists who are recognised authorities in their fields, will allow Russia to achieve some significant results.

“These include neurotechnologies in robotics, and projects for soil conservation and restoration. And, of course, in modern conditions, the development of international scientific collaborations, which becomes possible thanks to mega-grants, gains additional importance. Such projects show that Russian resources and competencies are of great value to colleagues from all over the world,” said Shevchenko.