TRANSCRIPT: [Putin at] Meeting of the Council for Science and Education

File Photo of Test Tubes with Algae Displaying Different Colors, Part of U.S. Energy-Related Research; from nrel.gov

(Kremlin.ru – November 23, 2016)

Vladimir Putin chaired a meeting of the Presidential Council for Science and Education. The draft National Science and Technology Development Strategy was the main item on the agenda.

The President gave the instruction to draft the strategy in June 2015. The Education and Science Ministry was responsible for drafting the document and the Centre for Strategic Developments provided analytical support.

The draft strategy was prepared with input from the scientific community, businesspeople, innovative development institutions, civil society, and the state authorities. More than 200 experts took direct part in the work, and broad discussion on the document took place on the site www.sntr-rf.ru.

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, colleagues,

We are meeting in this broad format, together with members of the Government, to examine the draft Science and Technology Development Strategy. I would also like to hear your concrete proposals on the strategy’s practical implementation.

Let me say straight away that the Government and the Council for Science and Education have prepared a balanced and substantial document. They put a lot of effort into this work and held a great many meetings and discussions. Considering the decisive role that science and technology play in our country, this document has been given particular status, as you know, and the law states directly that it is equal to the National Security Strategy.

Let me note a few key points.

First, we need to concentrate particular attention on developing fundamental science and focus it on developing new knowledge and finding solutions to the big challenges tomorrow will bring.

The situation is not easy right now, but we must nonetheless maintain spending on fundamental science as a share of GDP. If we try saving money here today, we will end up lagging hopelessly behind tomorrow, and we cannot let this happen. Therefore, along with budget money, we will also put extra-budgetary investment into this area in order to maintain financing for fundamental science as a share of GDP over the next 2-3 years.

Second, through broad and open discussion of the Strategy, scientists, state officials and the business community have arrived at a consolidated position on the priorities for science and have formulated objectives for the upcoming period.

Above all, we need to establish a strong technology base that will support rapid economic growth, boost Russian companies’ global competitiveness, take our healthcare and agriculture sectors to a new level, and speed up the development of new territories, including the Arctic and the Russian Far East.

We can resolve tasks of this scale only if we concentrate budget and private resources and ensure close cooperation between science, the state authorities, and our business community. The National Technology Initiative provides us with the needed instruments. Our colleagues drafting the National Technology Initiative are present today and I ask them to share their assessment and experience.

Third, we need to abandon for once and for all the practice of distributing budget resources in thin spread among the different research organisations. Money should be allocated to effective teams on a competitive basis and a competitive selection process so that we can count on achieving the hoped-for final result.

The Russian Science Fund’s instruments work on this principle. We will continue to build up this fund’s capabilities, through state investment and through extra-budgetary sources. Next year, the fund’s budget will increase to 17.7 billion rubles.

Finally, considering the scale of the tasks ahead, I think we need to organise a modern system for managing science and technology development so as to exclude duplication, when different ministries, agencies and state companies work on practically one and the same tasks and duplicate practically the same results. I ask the Council for Science and Education, together with the Academy of Sciences and the Government, to present proposals on this matter as soon as possible.

Colleagues, scientists and researchers develop new technology. Their developments and advances will have a decisive impact on the success of all of our plans, and so the state authorities and the business community must put greater effort and resources into bolstering our country’s human resource potential in this area.

You are aware of the fact that the number of researchers aged under 40 has increased by a third over the last decade. This is a very good trend.

We are working together with our companies today to establish a support mechanism for gifted schoolchildren, students, and young researchers. I think we need to organise a comprehensive system for protecting and developing talent. As I said, it should cover young scientists too.

The task is not just to help young people to develop their potential and receive a quality education and knowledge. Young people should have incentives and the desire to pursue a career in science here in Russia, to work for our economy’s interests, in our high-tech companies and research laboratories. To do this, we must give them future prospects. We already know very well how it happens that people grow up and we see that they have excellent prospects, but they themselves do not know where and how they will work. But others, who want to attract them their way, especially farther from home, they understand the situation, invite them to join them abroad, and the result is that they often do leave.

We therefore must show them prospects, development prospects, here. I want to hear your proposals on this matter too.

Of course, we also need to further develop the effective mechanisms that have already helped us to attract to Russia prominent scientists from abroad, including our own compatriots who had spent many years and made successful careers in other countries. You know about the mega-grant programme. I can inform you that this programme has seen the establishment of 200 genuinely world-class laboratories headed by prominent scientists. This programme concentrates above all on large-scale scientific tasks of interest and launching research projects with a long-term financing horizon. In short, we must establish the conditions that will make our country a pole of attraction for the best scientists from around the world.

Let’s start the discussion now. I give the floor to Mr Fursenko. Please, go ahead.

Presidential Aide Andrei Fursenko: Mr President, colleagues,

Following the Council meeting in June 2015, the Government and the Council’s Board were instructed to draft the Science and Technology Development Strategy. The preliminary draft’s main provisions were discussed on various discussion platforms, including at the Eastern and St Petersburg economic forums, the Valdai Club, and other forums, at expert group meetings and on the internet forum organised for this purpose. This made it possible to get more than 3,000 experts from the science and education world and the business community involved.

The Russian Academy of Sciences took active part in this work, including the Academy’s professors’ corps and the chairman [of the Coordination Council] of which, on the proposal of Vladimir Fortov, the president of the Russian Academy of Sciences, was included in the drafting group working on the document’s final draft.

The discussion was not always easy, but in the end, the draft Strategy was approved with the Government and received the professional community’s acceptance. This does not mean that there are no more drafting additions to be made, but overall, the draft has been approved.

Open discussion focused on finding solutions that in today’s situation, and taking into account our specific circumstances, will make it possible to transform science and put it at the foundation of Russia’s economic development and ensure our country’s independence and competitiveness based on developing scientific potential.

Let me say a few words about the proposed document’s key approaches and distinctive features.

First, over the next 10-15 years, Russia will encounter big challenges, problems, threats, opportunities, and difficulties of a scale that makes it impossible to resolve them solely by increasing financing or making personnel decisions. These challenges include the need to diversify the economy, the emergence of new and the return of old infectious diseases, and security and defence issues. The draft document presents a list of these key challenges.

Second, it is only possible to respond to these challenges effectively by making deep structural reforms in the research and development sector and transitioning to a fundamentally new level of its engagement with the socioeconomic sphere. This is why the Strategy considers science as a key element of the country’s socioeconomic development rather than an isolated sector. I must admit that the economic leaders have managed to make this transition, which substantially increased their competitive advantages.

Third, the Strategy orients the research and development sector toward achieving specific results, and the priorities of scientific and technological development are suggested accordingly. They are formulated not as separate areas of research but as a system of goals and requirements for results that the state and society expect from science.

For instance, we are talking about transitioning to personalised prognostic medicine that should improve the quality of life of our people. Likewise, transitioning to advanced digital and smart production technology will keep our economy and industry competitive. Naturally, the Strategy provides more specific and detailed answers to all questions.

The Strategy formulates public requirements for the results of research and developments and assigns the research community with practical tasks while preserving the freedom of scientific inquiry aimed at creating reserves for the future. In this context the Strategy pays special attention to the role of fundamental science.

Fourth, in drafting this document we proceeded from Russia’s national specifics and competitive advantages. Thus, considering the size of our country, an important role is assigned to the rational use of its territory, as well as the development of transport, energy infrastructure and a new generation of communications systems. We are also proposing a focus on national goals in our scientific and technical cooperation with foreign partners and international organisations.

Implementing these approaches calls for appropriate government policies in the sphere of scientific and technological development. The strategy includes a number of such policies, including the facilitation of world-class research, such as promoting modern research infrastructure, creating new organisational and financial instruments, providing priority support for so-called translational research and organising the transfer of technology to ensure rapid turnaround from research to production, and reinforcing interaction between science, business and society. Notably, almost all the participants referred to these matters as a key bottleneck to be resolved.

Finally, it is about proper staffing to support research in the sphere of technology. Mr President, in addition to the measures that are already being implemented in accordance with your instruction, grants are being awarded to young researchers, and a modern science and technology research system for youth and students is being developed. The Strategy focuses primarily on long-term planning and priority support to ambitious innovation-driven projects, which will motivate young researchers, developers, and entrepreneurs, and will provide an opportunity for the young people to prove themselves in innovative and promising areas and, ultimately, become the Strategy’s main beneficiaries. This, in fact, is what the Strategy is all about: it focuses on the young and what they want from life.

Colleagues, to preserve and multiply the potential of our science, and to able to resolve the issues mentioned here, we need to consolidate the efforts of the state, the research and academic community, businesses and civil society. This calls for a research and technology development governance system that is up to the task.

To date, the state has been the primary source of science funding in our country. Given the circumstances, it should not act as a mere distributor of resources. It is critical that government bodies and state-owned companies set specific targets for the research community and evaluate the performance results, rather than merely making sure that spending is in line with formal requirements. An important role in addressing these matters will be played by the councils in charge of setting development priorities for science and technology, which are being created by the Government in conjunction with the Russian Academy of Sciences. They will be responsible for identifying, selecting, and monitoring the implementation of the most promising projects and programmes.

Mr President, you have just mentioned the need to hold the line on funding for fundamental research, primarily budget funding. Funding the research and development sector in general is no less important. The Strategy suggests bringing the level of funding up to 2 percent of GDP, including the accelerated growth of private investment, which by 2035 should be at least equal to the state investment. Today, the state accounts for nearly 80 percent of research funding. This is absolutely at odds with international practice and impedes the development of science in general.

This scenario assumes that the prevailing negative trends will be overcome, and that both corporate and public-sector research, as well as development and innovation, will be restructured effectively. To implement this approach, a new government programme should be drafted providing for consolidation and coordination of federal budget allocations for civilian research and development included in current government programmes. Strictly speaking, this is what, at some point, the idea of a government programme was about – a programme that focuses on a key area of research should include all associated expenses.

Colleagues,

The Strategy is a framework document defining the objectives, the main principles, areas, stages and anticipated results of developing science and technology. Importantly, the document provides for the possibility of adjusting and implementing national policy in this area and formulates specific mechanisms for doing so. We discussed the indispensable nature of such an approach at a recent Council meeting in January.

All these provisions should be included in the implementation plan for the Strategy. Preliminary work on it has already started. We expect relevant instructions to be given to the Government and our Council following this meeting.

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much. Mr Fortov, please proceed.

President of the Russian Academy of Sciences Vladimir Fortov: Thank you, Mr President.

I would like to thank you for your perseverance and for raising this issue at the Council meeting, choosing it from among a large number of other important but pragmatic issues.

In general, the Strategy we are discussing today is a step in the right direction, a step towards the consolidation of our efforts on the way to a common goal. We need to consolidate our efforts because we are working on a decreasing budget and amid the most radical academic reform in our history.

As it has been said, the Academy of Sciences actively contributed to drafting the Strategy. We proposed our own version, some, though far from all, elements of which have been incorporated in the text.

There are several aspects I would like to highlight.

First, I am convinced that the biggest challenge, which has not been formulated as such in the Strategy, comes from nature itself. The priority task of science is to study nature and solve its mysteries. We have faced this main challenge since human beings learned to walk upright. We will continue to face this challenge for tens of billions of years, provided humankind survives the expansion of the Universe. It is the main meaning and the key mission of fundamental research. At the same time, apart from formulating other general challenges, we also need to compile a list of practical tasks and make them clear for the people, the tasks which the President has put forth more than once, as he did in his opening remarks here, and which our academics have been working to fulfil for years. After all, we cannot cancel these priorities.

Mr President, you clearly set forth our priorities in your opening remarks. I believe that fundamental research should have the key priority; it is our competitive advantage and the trademark of Russia and Russian science. It is the foundation and the source of all technologies and innovations, both the existing and future ones, and the main instrument for reforms and for responding to challenges in the areas where we are especially strong and where we have grounds for attaining practical results. Present here are people who have achieved top results in fundamental research.

Second, I have estimated that about 20 various research concepts, views and forecasts have been recently prepared for the Strategy. Great many people worked on them, but they have come to nothing. The reason for this is that these documents did not include a mechanism for their practical implementation. There is no provision to this effect in this new Strategy, and the related roadmap is too vague. This is our opinion.

Mr President, you have mentioned the implementation mechanisms, and so I will not speak about this. I will only say that Clause 21 of the draft plan for the implementation of the Strategy, “Creation of Technical Creativity Groups and Play Based Learning at Preschools”, cannot be regarded as an implementation mechanism. This undermines the standards of the Strategy. I believe that there must be serious, conceptual elements in this document.

It was for a reason that President of the Soviet Academy of Sciences Anatoly Aleksandrov used to say: “Adopting a document is 5 percent of success; 95 percent of success is implementing it.”

As we discuss the implementation mechanism, we must clearly understand that a mechanism for setting the goals for fundamental research will be of no use for applied research, and vice versa. For example, it would be a mistake to unite all research programmes, including academic, university and corporate programmes in all spheres, including defence, within a mega-programme and to combine their respective funding. This is oversimplification. Our colleagues and I believe that a super-centralised organisation model for all research is unlikely to be viable.

The rest of the world follows a different practice for organising research – that of multi-channel financing. Fortunately for us, we have developed some effective financing channels over the last year. They include the funds, various competitions and so on. This is all very important and is something I think we should value. This multi-channel approach is working well here in Russia. We have a programme for fundamental research, the programme for our state corporations, research centres and so on. The Academy of Sciences has overall responsibility at the national level for this fundamental research programme. I want to give you some information. This is one of the reports that we produce each year.

The problem is not one of how to distribute the money, but how to ensure that the research undertaken is well coordinated and in scientific correlation. I therefore think that the proposed programme should concentrate not on the financial aspect but above all on the substantive side of things and the coordination aspect. In other words, it should set priorities and concrete projects, prepare proposals on cooperation and set deadlines, provide for expert evaluations of the results achieved, and address many of the other tasks we have before us.

The multi-channel approach is the guarantee that we will abandon a monopolist system. Our outstanding scientist Yuly Khariton, who created atomic and thermonuclear bombs, said that there can be no monopoly in science. “Monopolism kills all science,” he said.

As I said, the focus should be on developing fundamental research. We think that this should be done on a separate and competitive basis. You spoke about a fundamental research programme in which all scientists around the country would take part. This book presents an example of just such work.

In accordance with Federal Law No. 253, the Russian Academy of Sciences has already prepared a draft concept for a new fundamental research programme, which we are ready to present to you, Mr President, and put to discussion once it is ready. I think this will take three months at the most.

I therefore propose that we include the following item in the Council’s decisions: The Russian Academy of Sciences shall draft and submit to the Government a draft fundamental research programme for 2018-2025 and beyond.

My third point is that this Strategy is clearly a strategic document by definition and inevitably takes a long-term view of science. It sets strategic goals for the next 20 years. But we think that we cannot achieve these strategic goals without first making critical analysis of today’s situation. Quality expert and analytical support is an essential condition for successfully implementing the Strategy in our view. This task could be given to the Academy of Sciences, since only they have the corps of highly qualified experts needed for all areas of the Strategy’s implementation.

This goes too for analysis of reform in the academic sector. It is difficult to move forward without a clear understanding of how the reform progresses, what objectives have been set, and what has or has not been achieved and why.

Three years of reform have gone by, but has this noticeably improved the effectiveness of actual scientists and their work? Not the bureaucrat bosses, but the scientists themselves. Mr President, over this time, the number of bosses has increased greatly and so has the quantity of bureaucratic reports and other sideline work that bogs us down. The great Albert Einstein, who loved science and hated formalism, said that bureaucracy means death for any good initiative.

Of course, the reform has had some positive aspects too, and this is something we should value and support. We succeeded in merging three academies into one without conflict, and they now work as a single whole. I briefed you on this recently. The Academy has just held elections to fill vacancies for young scientists. This was a first for us. We have established a corps of young professors and research institute directors. We have begun integrated interdisciplinary projects in the fields of medicine, agriculture, defence and computer science. You mentioned this too. We value the fact that your proposal on these priorities is being implemented today. The Academy’s 7,000-strong corps of scientific experts has started work now.

The Academy has successfully fulfilled everything that the law on reform prescribed, and yet new problems keep arising in academic science. In order to move forward, we above all need to resolve the longstanding and very important problem of delimiting powers between the Russian Academy of Sciences and FANO [Federal Agency for Scientific Organisations]. I have discussed this at length with Mr Kotyukov [head of FANO], but the process is a difficult one. This delimitation of powers should be clear and set in law. Back when all of this began, you did give your attention to this issue and you said that one single organisation should have responsibility here, but we see now that this is not working.

Finally, we must ensure that each of us concentrates on their own work. Those responsible for the management side should concentrate on this, and those responsible for science should work on science. Things have reached a point where at a recent general academy meeting speakers said that FANO has started work on establishing a new organisation parallel to the Academy of Sciences. I am not sure that this would benefit either the Academy of Sciences or FANO, or, most importantly, our country’s scientists.

Mr President, thank you for your understanding of this problem and your recent instruction to find an optimum solution and report back to you on it.

Finally, we remain deeply concerned about the issue of property belonging to the Academy. This is a serious matter. We and FANO drew up a list of superfluous property that could be sold off without problem. As for the rest, we ask you to decide its fate by executive order and only with the Academy of Science’s agreement. I ask for this item to be included in the minutes too.

Thank you for your attention.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you, Mr Fortov. Mr Peskov, please.

Director of Young Professionals Division, Agency for Strategic Initiatives, Dmitry Peskov: Mr President, Council members,

Looking at the National Science and Technology Development Strategy from the viewpoint of the National Technology Initiative (NTI), we see it as a kind of foundation, though not a foundation for research but for supplying Russian companies with competitive advantages on new markets. This is the logic that connects the NTI with the proposed strategy.

We understand that the real challenges do not stem from the distribution or concentration of budgetary funds, but from the outside. These are external challenges. We see three consecutive waves of the technological revolution, which will reduce our achievements to naught, including our achievements in science and education.

The first wave, which concerns the digital economy, IT, communications and banking, is sweeping over us now and is only disturbing the upper layers. But we know that the 2020s – we are discussing a long-term strategy – will bring a real challenge that will force us to overhaul our education, healthcare and industry. We are trying to create a new model in response to this new industrial challenge through exploratory research within the framework of TechNet, where our leading organisations are St Petersburg Polytechnic University, the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (SkolTech) and several Rostec organisations, including NPO Saturn.

The next wave, which is even more powerful, concerns Mikhail Kovalchuk’s area – new biology, new philosophy of nature and the spheres for which we have not yet found a name.

All these threats are perfectly substantive. They are not only threatening our national security and creating new challenges to ethics, but they also pose a direct economic challenge to the Russian budget, our social obligations and, ultimately, the foundations for investment in research and science.

These economic challenges arise from the fact that the bubbles coming one after the other on the investment markets and on the new markets in which we work not only create added value somewhere else, but whittle away our margin on the traditional markets from which we gain our budget earnings today. What in the past were just a few eccentric IT freaks are now, through these investment bubbles, creating direct threats for our companies’ competitive advantages with their large number of projects in outer space, railways, aircraft manufacturing, agriculture and energy. This is not science fiction anymore but is the difficult reality in which we have to work now, but their kind of competitive advantage works on the basis of different business models.

At their centre are different models for organising labour, research and sales, and they create competitive advantages many times higher than ours. The figures are unbelievable. Alibaba’s digital platform sold goods worth $17.6 billion in a single day on November 16. They have learned to carry out 140,000 transactions per second. This is a reality in which you can sell a billion dollars’ worth of digital goods in a day. We see that the capitalisation of start-ups such as Uber is comparable to the capitalisation of a company like Rosneft. We see too that they do not stay put where they are, but they are already here and are undermining our traditional markets. The taxi market in Moscow is in large part theirs now and they are making profits out of it.

In this sense, these technologies, which have been dubbed destruction technologies, aim to erode many national models’ existing competitives. This creates a serious ideological, economic and fundamental threat all at once.

We think that the Strategy seeks precisely to respond and can respond to the big challenges. It is about these issues and not about how to optimise existing financial processes.

We believe that the answer lies in a blend of fundamental research, market technologies, and fundamental, future-looking values. These may seem like incompatible things, but only by welding them together can we find solutions that will allow us to respond to national security challenges while at the same time ensuring economic growth and financing fundamental research. The National Technology Initiative is experimenting together with the Russian Academy of Sciences and leading universities to develop these new models we need.

What makes us hope that we will succeed? Over this year, we have learned how to formulate so-called technological barriers, in other words, what we need to be able to create new markets. We have formulated technological barriers for drones, for example, in the areas of degree of autonomy, noise levels, and safety. We can now set tasks for scientific teams who will turn fundamental research into knowledge and turn this knowledge into actual technology that can be capitalised on world markets.

The research Yury Dobrovolsky’s group at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for Chemical Physics is carrying out on hydrogen accumulators is just one example of this kind of work. The work of the consortium currently under formation at Moscow State University, the Institute for Higher Nervous Activity, and a number of other institutes on using optogenetics to restore the eye’s sensitivity to light is another example. This would seem to be just a minor scientific problem, but a similar company, in which we invested a little money, was sold to a global market leader this summer for $560 million. For the National Technology Initiative companies, investment in research is an absolutely objective process essential for their survival on these new markets. In this sense, no amount of state financing and counting on state financing alone will solve the problem of developing new markets and bringing fundamental research up to the needed level.

The thing of principle importance here is that fundamental research produces small, insignificant results that can later be capitalised in the most unbelievable way.

In genetic research for example, there is a small instrument we all know – CRISPR/Cas9. Now, if the patent is received, various estimates think it will be worth from $100 billion to $1 trillion. This is a patent for one piece of technology. This kind of road from fundamental research to market technologies seems entirely possible to us, and we are experimenting on this and looking for solutions. The Strategy gives us the foundation we need for this work.

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much.

Mr Peskov, I do not think that modern business organisation methods make it their goal to destroy existing ones. They simply organise things as they think best and most effective. We should not suspect them of sabotage. They simply work in modern fashion, but objectively, yes, this does create dangers for us, in this I agree with you.

To be continued.

[featured image is file photo, not directly related to posted subject matter]