Scientists claim Russia's science plan lacks ambition


A group of scientists at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RPANEPA), Russia’s biggest  state-funded institution of higher education, has signed a petition calling the education ministry’s science and technology programme for 2013– 2020 irrelevant. They say that the government’s strategy focuses on research fields that the country has little chance of becoming a world leader in, while ignoring emerging fields where there are opportunities to become world class.

The programme was designed by the Russian science and education ministry together with the Russian Higher School of Economics (HSE) and identified key areas for Russian science over the next seven years. The total funding for the programme is around RUB2.5 trillion (£41.4 billion), the majority of which will be invested in advanced research.

According to the scientists, led by Natalia Kurakova, many of the programmes’ targets cannot be achieved. She adds that many research areas labelled ‘promising’ by the strategy, such as smart power systems and advanced biofuels, already have clear global leaders. Russia is unlikely to catch up with these countries in the foreseeable future. At the same time, the RPANEPA group says that the programme has failed to target new research areas which no country has opened up a clear lead in yet. Scientific fields not covered by the programme will not be able to secure state funding.

The group say that the programme should be revised adding in new, more promising areas. One such area is optogenetics, where light is used to control the way in which specific cells act, which may provide new ways to treat neurological disorders such as Alzheimer's disease.

Kurakova has also added that there is also a need to change the grant system in Russian science so that the money is allocated more carefully and goes to the best researchers.

In the meantime, the creators of the programme have responded to its critics. Alexander Chulok, director of the Foresight Center of the HSE, said that during the design of the programme scientists used market pull and technology push to define the challenges and threats facing Russian science.

A spokesperson for the Russian science and education ministry acknowledges that it has received the scientists’ petition and a final decision will be taken on the programme by 1 September.


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