RUSSIALINK TRANSCRIPT: “Meeting of Council for Science and Education; Vladimir Putin held a meeting of the Presidential Council for Science and Education in the Kremlin” – KremlinRu

Kremlin and River

(Kremlin.ru – November 26, 2018)

[en.kremlin.ru/events/president/transcripts/59203]

The participants discussed policies in science and technology in the context of implementing the Strategy for the Scientific and Technological Development of the Russian Federation.

Transcript on the meeting of the Council for Science and Education

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, colleagues,

It is a pleasure to see everyone here. I believe our meeting is a very significant, maybe even a milestone event. I will explain later what I mean. I hope that together we will take an objective, impartial look at the results we are striving to achieve and, of course, determine further steps to strengthen and, most importantly, promote the country’s scientific potential in order to fully comply with our ambitious goals and the need to achieve the breakthrough that Russia requires.

First of all, I would like to remind you that over six years ago we changed the format of the Council for Science and Education and moved away from unnecessary ceremonial and protocol events. I believe that the Council has become a key and, importantly, a working platform for a dialogue between representatives of the state, the universities and the academic community in general.

I believe that precisely such open and substantive interaction allowed us to prepare and adopt such a complex and fundamental document as the Strategy for Scientific and Technological Development, to identify promising ways for promoting university science and advanced research infrastructure and reorganising the academic sector.

I called today’s meeting a milestone event, because we can sum up intermediate results and take a glimpse into the future. In recent years, we managed to create state-of-the-art laboratories, to implement a megagrant programme and to launch a support system for young talented researchers. In a word, we opened up new opportunities for our fellow citizens, young and very young researchers.

I am quite certain that, like all other researchers, they are interested in playing an important part in achieving complex and ambitious goals that we set for ourselves today to ensure our country’s technological leadership and its participation on an equal footing with other countries in the global scientific process.

The things I am saying now are, of course, not simply some empty and lofty words. This is a matter of our existence and even survival in the full sense of the word.

Knowledge, technologies, competencies and human resources are the foundation for implementing our national projects and achieving our strategic goals. We are talking about a brand new quality of life, opportunities for self-realisation; about the general competitiveness of our society, economy and country in the world of the future.

We need breakthrough discoveries and developments that will make it possible to manufacture world-class Russian products and create a strong technological and production base, upgrade the transport infrastructure, introduce new construction technologies, improve the current state of the environment and healthcare, which includes our independence in key segments of the pharmaceutical industry, and increase our food security, including on the strength of our own seed and livestock resources.

Our institutes, universities, higher education institutions must provide us with full scientific and intellectual assistance for implementing national projects and development programmes and training a professional workforce to address complex research, technological and production issues.

I ask the Government to ensure the direct cooperation and coordination of the efforts of the Ministry of Science and Higher Education’s and of other agencies and authorities in the regions. I ask that this mechanism be developed and introduced promptly.

I will expand on this issue a bit later. As I have said, science, technology and education must run through our every national project and programme. In its concentrated form, this work will be carried out within the framework of our special, separate national project Science.

I would like to remind you that over 300 billion rubles has been allocated for the implementation of this national project in the course of the next six years, resulting in a total of 635 billion rubles from all sources. It is crucial for us to decide how to manage these resources.

I have mentioned more than once that it is necessary to provide assistance to strong teams of researchers and engineers who engage in breakthrough and promising research. The grant support mechanism is based on this principle and has been used to launch major scientific projects in which leading international experts are taking part.

However, let us face it, for all their effectiveness, grants have not in the full sense become a catalyst for system-wide changes in the academic and university environment. Most of the funds allocated for science are still distributed as part of routine government procurement. In fact, what is being funded, in excessive amounts, are institutions or, more precisely, their administrative expenses. Please take note of that. This is important.

I will give you more numbers. What we need to finance is not administrative expenses, but living research conducted in the interests of the country, the economy and our citizens. However, what we have now is a situation where the state gives out money without articulating state needs, which are often very ambitious and are of a fundamental nature. In fact, the appropriate ministries have been removed from formulating these goals.

Laboratories identify areas of research themselves. At first glance, this is not a bad thing, because it always goes hand in hand with research creativity and creativity in general. However, we have come up with a system of grants precisely to finance such projects. Within this system of grants, the researchers themselves determine what they should focus on and how they should go about it. The state only helps financially and administratively. But unfortunately, there are many examples of research institutions doing the same kind of research for decades on end without much to show for it.

I think young and promising specialists either leave these ‘research’ teams soon or just break down mentally for lack of interest.

For your information, last year, 40 percent of the research subjects at academic institutions failed to produce a single research paper that could be entered into any citation base. That is, there are either no results whatsoever, or no one has any interest in them.

Or take another situation. Instead of ordering a specific technology or new equipment, the concerned agencies order analytical reports and forecasts. Of course, we need these as well. But instead of getting results from ongoing research projects we get yet another package of presentations and tables, which are available in open access magazines.

Yes, of course, we need this work as well. But why describe it as research? And is it worth the money we invest in it? Do you know how much we spend on this? 40 billion rubles.

By the way, back in 2014 I issued instructions to streamline state orders so that a large number of them would be assigned through tenders. This system is being applied to universities. But why is it not being used at research establishments? I do not understand this. Why has their efficiency been inspected yet no managerial decisions have been taken based on their results?

Please note that we have three categories of research establishments, from first to third. As far as I know, first-category research establishments receive the same kind of financing as third-category ones. What is this? Socialist egalitarianism? Why have we divided them into categories then?

One more thing: we agreed that the Russian Academy of Sciences would submit a programme for fundamental research in 2017 as part of its new functions.

Vladimir Fortov said the following on November 23, 2016. Mr Fortov, I will quote you: there is nothing shameful in quoting an academician, especially when he is such an outstanding person as Mr Fortov. You said: “The Russian Academy of Sciences shall draft and submit to the Government a draft fundamental research programme for 2018-2025 and beyond.” I know the Academy now has new management, but the concept of continuity has not been discarded. We pin our hopes on this. I would like to hear today how you are proceeding with this task. I hope Mr Sergeyev [President of the Russian Academy of Sciences] will tell us about it.

Let me repeat that the timeframe is compressing and the scale of tasks and challenges is very big, it is enormous. If we continue squandering money, inching forward or simply mulling yesterday’s problems, we will be late. Moreover, we might be late forever and fail to jump on even the last carriage of the technological revolution train.

We need to focus all our efforts on the areas that correspond to the national goals and priorities of the Science and Technology Development Strategy, to use the mechanism of major research programmes with measurable goals and accountability for the results. This programmatic approach will make it possible to rule out duplication and set clear objectives for research institutes and universities, state and private companies, individual laboratories and scientists. And we must, of course, make full use of the potential of research and education centres, which are currently being formed, as a resource for the spatial, intellectual and technological development of Russia.

Colleagues, I would like to underscore that we will not scrimp on science. Certainly not. However, we need to ensure that the enormous funds yield returns for the state and society and, ultimately, for the development of science itself. What is proposed in this regard?

First, it is necessary to set uniform requirements for all ministries and agencies in terms of the procedure for submitting state assignments for R&D and selecting topics for research projects, and to work out uniform qualification standards for their leaders.

Second, it is necessary to build a transparent and objective expert review process for results at all stages of research and formulate clear evaluation criteria, using the experience of the Russian Fund for Basic Research and the Russian Scientific Fund.

I know that far from all colleagues agree that one of the key performance indicators for basic research should be the number of research papers in leading publications and the citation index. Frankly speaking, I see their point. I understand that there are various fields of activity, that some are cited, while others are deliberately not cited – all that is clear, all that is understandable. But then, it is necessary to work out, as I am asking you, some objective criteria for evaluating results, based on reputational responsibility and the assessment of the professional community. How about that? After all, we do need some methods for the evaluation of research results. This needs to be done.

Now let us turn to applied research. It should not result in reports and some number of innovations but in a practical contribution from the implementation of these innovations, such as gains in longevity, lower mortality rates for various illnesses, environmental rehabilitation of territories, higher transport speeds and reliability, energy efficiency and effective digital solutions in all spheres as well as gains in labour productivity, high-tech exports and Russia’s defence capability, of course.

Third, we have set the task of replacing at least a half of the instrument base at research organisations. We should understand clearly what equipment can really provide for breakthroughs and which goals and tasks we want to solve with it so that the purchased equipment is not left to gather dust or become obsolete even before it is used, which happens sometimes. It is critically important for Russian research infrastructure, including megascience facilities, to be the best in the world. This is the only way Russia can become an “intellectual magnet” for prominent scientists and researchers.

And this brings us to number four: I believe that we should make science much more open, including publishing the results of civilian research carried out with government funds, which, of course, will increase the researchers’ sense of responsibility, popularise Russian science and promote the export of our innovations and educational services. And, of course, the process of awarding academic degrees and titles as well as electing corresponding members and academicians of the Russian Academy of Sciences should become more transparent and open to the public.

I am confident that we will be able to effectively address the tasks at the national level, if scientists and science in general enjoy the unconditional trust and support of society, of all Russians and Russia in general. We must aspire to this and achieve it.

Let us proceed to discussing the proposed issues.

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Vladimir Putin: This is what I would like to say in conclusion. Firstly, we gather twice a year, and today’s meeting deals with looking into how our research programme of both basic and applied research is growing, where we are heading, with working out a range of tools. You must be aware of the way it is being prepared, the list of instructions is ready. Naturally, much of what has been said here will be heeded. We will definitely analyse and present it in a respective list of instructions, primarily instructions for the Government and different agencies. I certainly want to thank you for today’s discussion.

I would like to say the following. I said in the beginning that an additional 300 plus billion is being allocated to the Science national project, which will amount to a total of over 600 billon. I suggest that our work be arranged somewhat differently in the future. I would like to see how this money is being spent and what the outcomes of the work are. Obviously, this is not an area where one can say exactly – produce a certain result by a set date. Of course not. But we can see how things are advancing in this sphere, where we are, where we are heading and what the prospects are. This is quite possible.

I would like both Mr Fursenko [Presidential Aide] and Mr Sergeyev [President of the Russian Academy of Sciences] to think it over. And we could discuss everything not in a single important, good gathering but rather in groups – certain issues on one day, other issues on another, and then sum up the results in a broader format. This is my suggestion.

I believe in this case our discussion will be more substantive and we will be able to see how effectively these fairly significant state resources are being spent to achieve the result we are striving for.

I would like to thank you very much again for today’s meeting and to wish you success.

Thank you very much.