Science policy Two years of war

“If the reform of Russian science begins in ten years, then there will be no one to return”

Under what con­di­tions will Russian sci­ence be allowed to be back “into the inter­na­tion­al club”?

Betting on sci­ence is a win-win for any mod­ern state. It is impor­tant that the future demo­c­ra­t­ic par­lia­ment under­stands this - and that it can clear­ly for­mu­late an answer to the ques­tion of why Russia needs sci­ence. The goal is impor­tant: let us remem­ber that the lists of cit­ed pub­li­ca­tions of Russian sci­en­tists, like 40 years ago, are dom­i­nat­ed by math­e­mat­ics, physics, astron­o­my - the sci­ences need­ed to make rock­ets (for com­par­i­son: in Canada, about 40% of sci­en­tif­ic pub­li­ca­tions are devot­ed to biol­o­gy and bio­med­i­cine). T-invari­ant edi­tor-in-chief Olga Orlova wrote for the Reforum project the his­to­ry of post-per­e­stroi­ka trans­for­ma­tions of sci­ence, and now she is the author of a project for pos­si­ble sci­en­tif­ic reforms in the Russia of the future. 


Totalitarianism and war have turned the vec­tor of Russian sci­ence 180°: it is now mov­ing in the direc­tion oppo­site to that which it had been going for 34 post-per­e­stroi­ka years. When the need aris­es to return sci­ence to its nat­ur­al course, any polit­i­cal force that tries to do this must have a plan of action. Below we present a col­lec­tion of ideas that can be used by those who will be respon­si­ble for sci­ence pol­i­cy and the devel­op­ment of spe­cif­ic pro­grams. We pro­ceed from the fact that there are basic prin­ci­ples for the devel­op­ment of mod­ern sci­ence, the obser­vance of which will need to be returned.

Not a sin­gle sci­ence reform project in Russia can be suc­cess­ful­ly imple­ment­ed if the answer to the ques­tion of what kind of sci­ence the coun­try needs in the future is not for­mu­lat­ed. The expe­ri­ence of sci­en­tif­ic reforms in post-Soviet Russia has shown that the lack of this basic under­stand­ing leads to the deval­u­a­tion of any pos­i­tive effect of changes.

A strik­ing exam­ple is the his­to­ry of the devel­op­ment of the human­i­ties and social sci­ences from the 1990s to the 2020s.

In the 1990s, the emerg­ing polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic sys­tem of post-Soviet Russia need­ed advanced researchers in the fields of eco­nom­ics, soci­ol­o­gy, phi­los­o­phy, polit­i­cal sci­ence, his­to­ry, cul­tur­al stud­ies and philol­o­gy. During the Soviet peri­od, these sci­ences tra­di­tion­al­ly served the author­i­ties or were strong­ly influ­enced by ide­o­log­i­cal dog­mas, which did not allow them to devel­op in accor­dance with world trends. The need for new per­son­nel led to the need to cre­ate new edu­ca­tion­al and sci­en­tif­ic cen­ters or trans­form old ones so that new aca­d­e­m­ic pro­grams appeared in them: Moscow School of Economics and Social Sciences, Higher School of Economics, New Economic School, European University at Saint Petersburg etc., jobs for mod­ern pro­fes­sion­al researchers and a sys­tem for their repro­duc­tion appeared.

In the 2000s and 2010s, when the Russian econ­o­my “embarked” on resource-based and then resource-admin­is­tra­tive tracks, these spe­cial­ists helped keep the coun­try afloat - inte­grate it into var­i­ous glob­al process­es, sup­port finan­cial insti­tu­tions and devel­op new indus­tries. However, start­ing from the third term of Vladimir Putin, i.e. from 2012, the final change in the polit­i­cal course sep­a­rat­ed the devel­op­ment of these dis­ci­plines and their influ­ence on eco­nom­ic and social life in the coun­try. This led to the vir­tu­al destruc­tion of growth points in these areas - the clo­sure or repur­pos­ing of entire sci­en­tif­ic depart­ments, the label­ing of some of them as for­eign agents or unde­sir­able orga­ni­za­tions, a break with for­eign part­ners, and a “brain drain”. The war com­plete­ly changed the land­scape of social sci­ence and human­i­ties dis­ci­plines in Russia. In the year after the full-scale inva­sion, thou­sands of lead­ing econ­o­mists, slav­ists, his­to­ri­ans, soci­ol­o­gists, and polit­i­cal sci­en­tists left Russia. The Liberal Arts fac­ul­ties at RANEPA and St. Petersburg State University were closed, Poletayev Institute for Theoretical and Historical Studies in the Humanities was dis­band­ed. Bard College was giv­en unde­sir­able status.

The lead­er­ship of the coun­try’s lead­ing human­i­ties fac­ul­ties and uni­ver­si­ties has changed.

Thus, for thir­ty years we have wit­nessed how, at first, young post-Soviet Russia great­ly need­ed advanced human­i­ties and social sci­ences, then it began to need them only in cer­tain areas to solve cer­tain prob­lems, and then they ceased to be need­ed at all.

The sit­u­a­tion was dif­fer­ent with exact and nat­ur­al sci­ence areas that solve fun­da­men­tal, applied and prac­tice-ori­ent­ed prob­lems. In the 1990s, nei­ther the gov­ern­ment nor the econ­o­my need­ed them. Each region looked for ways to sur­vive at its own dis­cre­tion; in the first ten post-Soviet years, math­e­mati­cians, physi­cists, chemists, and biol­o­gists left Russia en masse. In the five years after per­e­stroi­ka, from 1989 to 1994, the num­ber of employ­ees engaged in research and devel­op­ments, reduced by 1 mil­lion 110 thou­sand spe­cial­ists, of which 748 thou­sand researchers and tech­ni­cal work­ers. Industry sci­ence was prac­ti­cal­ly destroyed. The coun­try’s lead­er­ship for the most part focused on the import of high tech­nolo­gies, not car­ing not only about the devel­op­ment of fun­da­men­tal sci­ences, but even about their preservation.

In the 2000s, against the back­ground of bud­get growth thanks to seri­ous oil rev­enues, the author­i­ties began to under­stand that the lev­el of devel­op­ment of sci­ence is one of the indi­ca­tors of the image of a civ­i­lized coun­try. In 2005-2007 sci­en­tif­ic pol­i­cy of the state begins to focus on inter­na­tion­al indi­ca­tors and indi­ca­tors of sci­en­tif­ic effi­cien­cy and suc­cess, pro­grams for sci­en­tif­ic and tech­no­log­i­cal devel­op­ment of cer­tain areas appear (for exam­ple, nan­otech­nol­o­gy ini­tia­tive or pro­grams for the inte­gra­tion of for­eign sci­en­tists into the Russian aca­d­e­m­ic sys­tem; remem­ber the mega­grants pro­gram). In the 2010s, the Russian lead­er­ship declared the need for research and devel­op­ment relat­ed to the mil­i­tary-indus­tri­al complex.

After 2014, the exter­nal and inter­nal poli­cies changed sharply; now the rhetoric of import sub­sti­tu­tion of tech­nolo­gies dom­i­nates in the sphere of sci­en­tif­ic and tech­no­log­i­cal pol­i­cy. It was dur­ing these years that the idea of ​​the pos­si­bil­i­ty of hav­ing a strong nation­al sci­ence sep­a­rate­ly from the world one took root in the gov­ern­ment, which drew its main “inno­v­a­tive ideas” from the Stalinist admin­is­tra­tive expe­ri­ence. At the same time, the author­i­ties always focused on the suc­cess­ful Soviet expe­ri­ence in the devel­op­ment of nuclear and atom­ic physics, for­get­ting about the fail­ure in the field of biol­o­gy, genet­ics, and cyber­net­ics. This dis­tort­ed view of the real state of Soviet sci­ence led to the fact that the sev­er­ance of inter­na­tion­al sci­en­tif­ic ties with Europe and the United States was per­ceived by the Russian author­i­ties with­out a sober under­stand­ing of the con­se­quences. The gov­ern­ment called on sci­en­tists to turn to the East and begin to active­ly coop­er­ate with India, China and Iran.

The cur­rent struc­ture of the Russian econ­o­my does not allow for the effec­tive use of the poten­tial accu­mu­lat­ed by Russian sci­ence over the 24 years of Putin’s rule. The inter­fer­ence of secu­ri­ty forces and lead­ers of mil­i­taris­tic ide­ol­o­gy in aca­d­e­m­ic process­es and in the oper­a­tional man­age­ment of sci­ence, the search for “spies” among Russian sci­en­tists col­lab­o­rat­ing with for­eign col­leagues, has led to the absence of long-term prospects on which the real devel­op­ment of sci­ence is built.

Thus, the inevitable reform of sci­ence, which will have to be car­ried out by those who come to pow­er in the new Russia, will pri­mar­i­ly depend on what polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic foun­da­tion the coun­try will be built on.

But there are a num­ber of steps that will need to be tak­en in any case - whether the new Russia fol­lows the path of a pres­i­den­tial or par­lia­men­tary repub­lic, turns into a real fed­er­a­tion or breaks up into sev­er­al parts, regard­less of how the bud­get will be formed and what will make it larg­er depend on degree. The devel­op­ment of sci­ence is inevitable, because the sci­en­tif­ic and tech­no­log­i­cal indus­try is one of the most nec­es­sary tools for the devel­op­ment of any suc­cess­ful econ­o­my in the mod­ern world. A gov­ern­ment that does not under­stand this is doomed. If the gov­ern­ment wants to sur­vive, it will rely on sci­ence and technology.

In our pro­pos­als, we pro­ceed from the fact that the reform of Russian sci­ence will become part of a larg­er over­all reform of the Russian state.

5 tasks for the restoration and development of Russian science

Task 1. Restoring the inte­gra­tion of Russian sci­ence into the inter­na­tion­al aca­d­e­m­ic system

By 2023, Russian insti­tu­tion­al ties with lead­ing sci­en­tif­ic coun­tries were prac­ti­cal­ly destroyed. There are many exam­ples. In 2022, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) sus­pend­ed observ­er sta­tus for Russia due to the sit­u­a­tion in Ukraine until fur­ther notice, and from the fall of 2024, CERN will com­plete­ly cease coop­er­a­tion with Russia and Russian sci­en­tists. Russia was lim­it­ed in access to the inter­na­tion­al sci­en­tif­ic data­bas­es Web of Science and Scopus. German spe­cial­ists refuse to resume oper­a­tion of their eROSITA tele­scope in Russia space obser­va­to­ry “Spektr-RG”. Seven coun­tries from the eight mem­bers of the Arctic Council sus­pend­ed their work for an indef­i­nite peri­od, not want­i­ng to coop­er­ate with Russia as the chair­man of the coun­cil. In Russia drug research pro­grams have been stopped.

The Russian gov­ern­ment has can­celed a num­ber of agree­ments on coop­er­a­tion with the United States, Britain and the EU in the field of sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy. Russian sci­en­tists are pro­hib­it­ed from par­tic­i­pat­ing in inter­na­tion­al native projects and con­fer­ences, which are financed from the bud­get of the EU, Britain and the USA. All this makes it impos­si­ble for the devel­op­ment of full-fledged sci­ence in Russia. And the restora­tion of Russia in inter­na­tion­al sci­en­tif­ic projects and EU pro­grams will be a key task of sci­en­tif­ic reforms.

However, its solu­tion can­not occur only on the ini­tia­tive of Russia itself. She will not be allowed back into the “club” with­out guar­an­tees that the for­mer aggres­sor will not con­vince the rest of the inter­na­tion­al sci­en­tif­ic com­mu­ni­ty that she can be dealt with. This means that a num­ber of actions will need to be tak­en to restore its rep­u­ta­tion in the aca­d­e­m­ic world. This will be facil­i­tat­ed by solv­ing the sec­ond problem.

Task 2. Achieve the lift­ing of sanc­tions on research organizations

By 2023, more than 20 sci­en­tif­ic insti­tutes and uni­ver­si­ties were sub­ject to inter­na­tion­al sanc­tions. Among them are the Research Institute of Energy of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS), the Institute of Petroleum Chemistry RAS, the Research Institute of Polymers named after aca­d­e­mi­cian Kargin, All-Russian Petroleum Scientific Research Geological Prospecting Institute, All-Russian Research Institute of Geophysical Exploration Methods, Institute of Synthetic Rubber named after Lebedev, Siberian Research Institute of Geology, Geophysics and Mineral Resources, Almetyevsk State Oil Institute, RN-BashNIPIneft and Gazprom. The sanc­tions includ­ed such lead­ing sci­en­tif­ic insti­tu­tions as the Institute of Applied Physics of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the P.N. Physical Institute. Lebedev RAS, Institute of General Physics named after Prokhorov, Physico-Technical Institute named after A.F. Ioffe RAS, Institute of Semiconductor Physics named after A.V. Rzhanov SB RAS, Institute of Theoretical Physics named after L.D. Landau RAS, Institute of Physics and Technology named after K.A. Valiev RAS and the Institute of Spectroscopy of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Skolkovo Foundation and the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology, MIPT, the Institute of Management Problems includ­ed in the infra­struc­ture of the Skolkovo inno­va­tion cen­ter, V.V. Trapeznikov RAS, Institute of Information Transmission Problems named after A.A. Kharkevich RAS, Institute of Marine Technology Problems of the Far Eastern Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Russian Federal Nuclear Center - All-Russian Research Institute of Experimental Physics and its branch, Research Institute of Measuring Systems named after Yu.E. Sedakova. In addi­tion, four oil-relat­ed edu­ca­tion­al insti­tu­tions appear in the updat­ed SDN List: Russian State University of Oil and Gas named after Gubkin, St. Petersburg Mining University (Mining Institute), Grozny State Petroleum Technical University (GGNTU) and Russian State Geological Prospecting University named after Ordzhonikidze.

The list of these orga­ni­za­tions is con­stant­ly updat­ed and will grow as long as Russia is at war with Ukraine.

The basis for inclu­sion in the sanc­tions list is the involve­ment of a sci­en­tif­ic orga­ni­za­tion in crit­i­cal areas of indus­try and tech­nol­o­gy that could strength­en the mil­i­tary and eco­nom­ic poten­tial of war­ring Russia. Almost all of these insti­tutes are among the lead­ing sci­en­tif­ic cen­ters in their fields. Their return to the inter­na­tion­al field is the most impor­tant step for the devel­op­ment of Russian sci­ence. However, in order to achieve their exclu­sion from the gen­er­al sanc­tions list, it is nec­es­sary to pro­vide strong evi­dence of their fur­ther non-par­tic­i­pa­tion in the defense-indus­tri­al com­plex. It is nec­es­sary to devel­op state reg­u­la­tions that exclude the pos­si­bil­i­ty of inter­ac­tion between these sci­en­tif­ic orga­ni­za­tions and law enforce­ment agen­cies for an indef­i­nite peri­od. In order for such reg­u­la­tions to be devel­oped, sanc­tioned insti­tu­tions must under­go an inter­na­tion­al audit involv­ing experts from the EU and the USA. To do this, you need to solve the fol­low­ing problem.

Task 3. Carrying out an inter­na­tion­al audit of all sci­en­tif­ic orga­ni­za­tions and uni­ver­si­ties in Russia

Carrying out such a pro­ce­dure should become an indis­pens­able con­di­tion for the admis­sion of Russian state sci­en­tif­ic insti­tu­tions to any inter­na­tion­al projects, pro­grams, data­bas­es and col­lab­o­ra­tions. This means that the admin­is­tra­tive appa­ra­tus of these orga­ni­za­tions will be forced to show inter­est in obtain­ing a “license” for new activ­i­ties. The pur­pose of inter­na­tion­al audit­ing should be to deter­mine the sci­en­tif­ic and tech­no­log­i­cal lev­el of the orga­ni­za­tion, the lev­el of its social sig­nif­i­cance in the region­al or fed­er­al econ­o­my and the lev­el of devel­op­ment of aca­d­e­m­ic free­dom and ide­o­log­i­cal neu­tral­i­ty. The effec­tive­ness of such an audit can only be ensured by high­ly pro­fes­sion­al experts with an impec­ca­ble rep­u­ta­tion and knowl­edge of Russian aca­d­e­m­ic real­i­ties. A key role in such a process can be played by the huge Russian-speak­ing sci­en­tif­ic dias­po­ra, rep­re­sen­ta­tives of whichsince 1991 have been suc­cess­ful­ly work­ing in inter­na­tion­al uni­ver­si­ties and which has been replen­ished with sev­er­al thou­sand bril­liant spe­cial­ists from var­i­ous fields who left Russia after February 24, 2022. On the oth­er hand, the com­po­si­tion of expert groups in each field should be formed by lead­ing sci­en­tif­ic asso­ci­a­tions and sci­en­tif­ic soci­eties that will del­e­gate its mem­bers to par­tic­i­pate in these groups.

There are cur­rent­ly 724 uni­ver­si­ties and 1,618 research insti­tutes in Russia. To con­duct an audit and exam­i­na­tion of these insti­tu­tions, it will take at least two years and sig­nif­i­cant funds. Whether the new tran­si­tion­al gov­ern­ment will be able to obtain cred­it for such an audit from inter­na­tion­al funds is a big ques­tion. There is a high prob­a­bil­i­ty that the answer will be neg­a­tive, and Russia itself will have to pay for its imple­men­ta­tion. Then you will need to solve the next problem.

Task 4. A sharp increase in pub­lic and pri­vate fund­ing for science

In 2022, Russia spent 229 bil­lion rubles (approx­i­mate­ly $2.860 bil­lion) from the state bud­get on fun­da­men­tal sci­ence, and 339 bil­lion rubles (approx­i­mate­ly $4.2 bil­lion) on applied science.

In terms of the absolute scale of spend­ing on sci­ence ($49.9 bil­lion), Russia is among the top ten 6 lead­ers, clos­ing it, but in terms of the share of such expens­es in GDP it ranks only 43rd place (0.94% in 2022). At the same time, the expen­di­tures of the European Union coun­tries on research and devel­op­ment (R&D) from 2012 to 2022. increased by 45% and amount to more than 352 bil­lion euros, or 2.22% of GDP. With the out­break of the war, pri­or­i­ties were revised: fund­ing for the nation­al project “Science and Universities” in 2024 was reduced by 4.3% com­pared to the 2023 bud­get. In February 2024, in his pre-elec­tion address to the Federal Assembly, Vladimir Putin touched on most social spheres, but did not say any­thing about sci­ence or about the planned expens­es for it. This is the clear­est sig­nal to the sci­en­tif­ic com­mu­ni­ty about pri­or­i­ties in gov­ern­ment policy.

Only a mul­ti­ple increase in the research and devel­op­ment bud­get can rad­i­cal­ly change the sit­u­a­tion. Let us note that in no coun­try in the world such a “finan­cial zigzag” towards sci­ence can be car­ried out sole­ly at the expense of the state bud­get. Private busi­ness should be involved in sup­port­ing the sci­en­tif­ic sphere. Attracting pri­vate cap­i­tal to the sci­en­tif­ic field has been declared a pri­or­i­ty through­out the 24 years of Putin’s pres­i­den­cy. However, this prob­lem was nev­er solved. In the field of applied sci­ence in the field of R&D, before the war, Russia was in 16th place, sec­ond to Hungary and Estonia. 1 researcher in the applied field account­ed for $102 thou­sand per year, and 67% of this amount was pro­vid­ed by gov­ern­ment mon­ey, 30% by cor­po­rate mon­ey and 3% by for­eign cap­i­tal. The state spent $27 bil­lion on applied sci­ence, com­pa­nies - a lit­tle more than $12 bil­lion. This ratio did not in any way ensure a sta­ble con­nec­tion between applied sci­ence and the tech­no­log­i­cal sphere.

Two fac­tors may change the sit­u­a­tion in the future. Firstly, the lib­er­al­iza­tion of the Russian econ­o­my, increas­ing the lev­el of com­pe­ti­tion and there­by increas­ing the need for inno­va­tion on the part of pri­vate busi­ness. Secondly, increas­ing the share of pri­vate cap­i­tal in the over­all struc­ture of sci­ence financ­ing. This will require the devel­op­ment of spe­cial pro­grams that would allow those com­pa­nies that were sub­ject to inter­na­tion­al sanc­tions and were involved in the mil­i­tary oper­a­tions in Georgia and Ukraine to “clean up” their rep­u­ta­tion and restart their rep­u­ta­tion, but want to con­tin­ue oper­at­ing in the Russian and glob­al mar­kets under new con­di­tions. Such a pro­gram should become part of anoth­er large pro­gram - the demil­i­ta­riza­tion of the Russian economy.

Task 5. Demilitarization of the economy

Any reforms are expen­sive. There is no hope that the world com­mu­ni­ty will want to spend mon­ey on reform­ing sci­ence in a coun­try that start­ed an aggres­sive war and then lost it. You will need to find these funds your­self. Since one of the eco­nom­ic con­se­quences of the war in Ukraine was the accel­er­at­ed tran­si­tion of Western Europe to alter­na­tive ener­gy sources, as well as a reduc­tion in trade with Russia, oil, gas and cus­toms duties, which made up a sig­nif­i­cant part of the Russian bud­get, will cease to be so in the com­ing years. Russian reform­ers will not have much room for maneu­ver; they will have to very quick­ly decide on pri­or­i­ties with­in the coun­try and nego­ti­ate loans out­side it.

One of the main con­di­tions for lend­ing from inter­na­tion­al insti­tu­tions will be the rad­i­cal demil­i­ta­riza­tion of the Russian econ­o­my, reform of the secu­ri­ty forces and mil­i­taryre­venge The release of these funds will make it pos­si­ble to trans­fer them to oth­er sec­tors. One of the first such sec­tors should be sci­ence and high­er edu­ca­tion. Qualitative changes in the repro­duc­tion of human cap­i­tal will allow Russia to con­vince the world that it no longer pos­es a threat to oth­er countries.

Human resources - return or grow?

Suppose we come to the gov­ern­ment of the tran­si­tion peri­od with a gen­er­al con­cept of reform­ing Russian sci­ence. The first ques­tion we will be asked is: who will do all this? Do you want to give away the reform at the mer­cy of offi­cials, aca­d­e­mics and admin­is­tra­tors who vot­ed for the war, rewrote the his­to­ry text­book and taught the course “Fundamentals of Russian Statehood”? To answer this ques­tion, you must first answer three others:

  • What to do with lus­tra­tion of sci­en­tif­ic admin­is­tra­tors and officials?
  • How to bring back those who left Russia but would like to return?
  • How to quick­ly train new sci­en­tif­ic personnel?

1. Lustrations

Experts agree that there is no way to car­ry out mass lus­tra­tions in the aca­d­e­m­ic sphere no pos­si­bil­i­ty, no mean­ing (more on the top­ic - here andhere).

Firstly, a sig­nif­i­cant part of those lead­ers who pub­licly sup­port­ed the war, fired sci­en­tists who left the coun­try and con­tin­ued to work and teach remote­ly, did this forced­ly, under pres­sure from the Ministry of Science and Higher Education.

Secondly, mea­sures to iso­late Russian sci­en­tif­ic orga­ni­za­tions fol­lowed so quick­ly that Russian sci­en­tif­ic admin­is­tra­tors did not have time to make a choice and change their tra­jec­to­ry. Western coun­tries made it clear in the very first weeks of the war that they were not expect­ing sci­en­tists from Russia. Therefore, we prac­ti­cal­ly did not observe the depar­ture of man­age­ment per­son­nel abroad; only a few were able to leave the coun­try. Some of the remain­ing tried to min­i­mize the dam­age from for­eign pol­i­cy changes, while oth­ers began to adapt to new con­di­tions. But there was also a part that said that they had long been wait­ing for the hour when Russia would final­ly rise from its knees. This part should be iden­ti­fied dur­ing the inter­na­tion­al audit and removed from admin­is­tra­tive activ­i­ties in sci­ence. The audit and exam­i­na­tion report of each sci­en­tif­ic orga­ni­za­tion must include the item “List of per­sons sub­ject to lus­tra­tion and not allowed to hold lead­er­ship posi­tions in sci­en­tif­ic and edu­ca­tion­al organizations.”

2. Return of sci­en­tif­ic emigrants

In the ear­ly 2000s, when free oil mon­ey began to appear in the Russian bud­get and talk arose among Putin’s entourage about the revival of Russian sci­ence, the deci­sion quick­ly matured to attract rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the sci­en­tif­ic dias­po­ra to the coun­try who had man­aged to real­ize them­selves pro­fes­sion­al­ly in the West and might be inter­est­ed in addi­tion­al mon­ey and grad­u­ate stu­dents from Russia. In 2010, the mega­grants pro­gram appeared; the gen­er­al course towards inte­gra­tion into world sci­ence, which pro­claimed by the Russian gov­ern­ment through the mouth of the Minister of Science and Education Andrei Fursenko, implied close coop­er­a­tion with those who already had a good under­stand­ing of mod­ern sci­ence and want­ed to help bring the domes­tic sci­ence into line with its stan­dards. A notice­able impe­tus for the imple­men­ta­tion of this course was the 5-100 pro­gram, adopt­ed in 2013 and imply­ing the entry of at least 5 Russian uni­ver­si­ties into the top hun­dred lead­ing uni­ver­si­ties in the world.

All this con­tributed to the inte­gra­tion of Russian sci­ence into inter­na­tion­al sci­ence. By the end of the 2010s, not only in the cap­i­tal, but also in region­al uni­ver­si­ties and insti­tutes, lab­o­ra­to­ries and projects began oper­at­ing with the par­tic­i­pa­tion of for­eign sci­en­tists, main­ly immi­grants from the for­mer USSR. With their help, Russia became a par­tic­i­pant in var­i­ous inter­na­tion­al projects, some of them returned to Russia for per­ma­nent positions.

Can this process be repeated?

The answer depends on two fac­tors. The first is when exact­ly Russian sci­ence will be able to return to the glob­al mar­ket. The sec­ond is what age group of sci­en­tists we are talk­ing about. The vast major­i­ty of mature sci­en­tists who left Russia after the out­break of the war in Ukraine received tem­po­rary posi­tions in for­eign uni­ver­si­ties with a strong reduc­tion in aca­d­e­m­ic sta­tus. The like­li­hood that in the com­ing years they will be able to restore oppor­tu­ni­ties in the inter­na­tion­al aca­d­e­m­ic mar­ket sim­i­lar to those they had in Russia is extreme­ly small com­pared to thosewe who left Russia in the 90s and ear­ly 2000s. Over the past 20 years, com­pe­ti­tion with sci­en­tists from the coun­tries of Southeast Asia, India, the Middle East, and South America has inten­si­fied. When an American uni­ver­si­ty is faced with a choice between a promis­ing young sci­en­tist from India or an old­er pro­fes­sor from Russia, the choice is almost always not in favor of the Russian. So if in the com­ing years these sci­en­tists have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to return to their pre­vi­ous posi­tions in Russia, then they will return - this is con­firmed by many T-invari­ant interlocutors.

If the reform of Russian sci­ence begins in ten or more years, when most of these peo­ple leave the inter­na­tion­al aca­d­e­m­ic mar­ket due to age, then there will be no one to return.

The prob­a­bil­i­ty of return to Russia for those who left their home­land at the age of 20-40 is high­er, the bet­ter con­di­tions Russia can offer. Russian youth will want to return to Russia exact­ly to the same extent that a German post­doc will find it suit­able to work at a Russian uni­ver­si­ty. And this no longer depends on whether Russian uni­ver­si­ties will become attrac­tive in five years or ten. It depends on whether they become attrac­tive at all.

3. Where to get new sci­en­tif­ic personnel?

It will not be pos­si­ble to quick­ly make Russian uni­ver­si­ties and research insti­tutes attrac­tive to sci­en­tists from advanced sci­en­tif­ic coun­tries. But the issue of the repro­duc­tion of sci­en­tif­ic per­son­nel will have to be resolved very quick­ly: this is an extreme­ly impor­tant process in reform­ing sci­ence. Launching new aca­d­e­m­ic pro­grams takes time, but you can try to land on Russian soil those that are already work­ing in oth­er coun­tries. We can again turn to the expe­ri­ence of the 90s, when train­ing under joint pro­grams with Western uni­ver­si­ties appeared in Russia. A spe­cial role here can be played by those uni­ver­si­ties that have already opened Russian-lan­guage pro­grams for stu­dents in the Czech Republic, Germany, Cyprus, and Israel.

Another urgent mea­sure that will part­ly help solve this prob­lem could be a tar­get­ed increase in tem­po­rary research rates out­side the bud­gets of uni­ver­si­ties and insti­tutes for the devel­op­ment of aca­d­e­m­ic mobil­i­ty. In any case, this task can only be solved in close coop­er­a­tion with the inter­na­tion­al aca­d­e­m­ic community.

What will hap­pen by itself if you launch a sci­ence reform?

1. Decentralization of Russian science

The geog­ra­phy of Russian sci­ence today is approx­i­mate­ly the same as it was 50 years ago. The most pow­er­ful sci­en­tif­ic cen­ters are con­cen­trat­ed in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Tomsk, Nizhny Novgorod, Perm, Kazan and sev­er­al oth­er large cities. Some expan­sion of sci­en­tif­ic geog­ra­phy occurred in con­nec­tion with the devel­op­ment of region­al uni­ver­si­ties thanks to the 5-100 pro­gram. However, there are enough regions in Russia in the devel­op­ment of which sci­ence plays almost no role. It is dif­fi­cult to imag­ine a politi­cian who would con­sid­er this state of affairs nor­mal for such a huge coun­try as Russia. Is this a sig­nif­i­cant fac­tor and is it nec­es­sary to do some­thing spe­cial about this, to devel­op a sep­a­rate pro­gram for the decen­tral­iza­tion of Russian sci­ence? In our opin­ion, it is not at all nec­es­sary. The process will start by itself as a con­se­quence of the decen­tral­iza­tion of the Russian econ­o­my as a whole, inevitable in the event of the polit­i­cal changes that we expect in the com­ing years. Strengthening the eco­nom­ic inde­pen­dence of the regions will neces­si­tate the train­ing of qual­i­fied per­son­nel local­ly, which, in turn, will require the devel­op­ment of region­al uni­ver­si­ties and strength­en­ing of their sci­en­tif­ic potential.

2. Restoring the Institute of Scientific Reputation

The decline in the pres­tige of the sci­en­tist’s pro­fes­sion and the low assess­ment of his sta­tus in soci­ety is anoth­er trau­ma that many experts point out when ana­lyz­ing the dra­mat­ic state of post-Soviet sci­ence. This in itself is not a prob­lem and does not affect the lev­el of devel­op­ment of sci­ence: in Germany and Austria, being a Doctor of Science is extreme­ly hon­or­able, in the USA it is not, while sci­ence in the USA is more devel­oped than in Germany or Austria. But if in Germany and the USA the sta­tus of a sci­en­tist in the eyes of soci­ety has been what it is for 150 years, then in Russia it col­lapsed in a mat­ter of years. The sci­en­tif­ic pover­ty of the 90s and the trade in aca­d­e­m­ic degrees, the cre­ation of fac­to­ries of fake dis­ser­ta­tions led to the fact that soci­ety, which pre­vi­ous­ly treat­ed peo­ple of sci­ence with great respect, ceased to val­ue sci­en­tists and their degrees. Another blow to the rep­u­ta­tion of sci­en­tists is that the author­i­ties com­plete­ly ignored expert opin­ion when mak­ing decisions.

A sci­en­tist in post-Soviet Russia is a per­son who is under­paid, who is lit­tle val­ued, and his opin­ion can either be bought or ignored. But tra­di­tions of respect for intel­lec­tu­al work do not dis­ap­pear in a cou­ple of decades. In our opin­ion, increased com­pe­ti­tion in the labor mar­ket, includ­ing in the field of expert assess­ment of gov­ern­ment and com­mer­cial projects, will restore the pres­tige of sci­ence as quick­ly as it fell in the 1990s. When the scientist’s opin­ion has deci­sive weight or brings added val­ue to gov­ern­ment or com­mer­cial spheres, soci­ety will again learn to hear this opinion.

3. Integration with busi­ness through the sys­tem of Application Development Centers and RnD Centers

The lack of inter­est of Russian busi­ness in sci­en­tif­ic devel­op­ments is a com­mon theme in all meet­ings relat­ed to sci­ence in the last 20 years. Officials and sci­en­tists nev­er tire of reproach­ing busi­ness­men for not want­i­ng to invest in domes­tic applied research; busi­ness­men pre­fer to remain silent or per­ceive invest­ments in such projects as a social tax. Although the rea­son has long been known to all par­tic­i­pants in the dia­logue: the lack of com­pe­ti­tion in pri­or­i­ty sec­tors of the Russian econ­o­my or the lack of full-cycle pro­duc­tion leads to the fact that it is unprof­itable for com­pa­nies to spend mon­ey on inno­v­a­tive solu­tions. With rare excep­tions, busi­ness in Russia does not per­ceive domes­tic devel­op­ments as a poten­tial source of increas­ing the com­pet­i­tive­ness of their com­pa­nies. Talks about how to “mar­ry sci­ence and busi­ness” (as they like to say in the Academy of Sciences) will have no basis in real­i­ty until busi­ness begins to live in an intense­ly com­pet­i­tive envi­ron­ment and, accord­ing­ly, begins to look with­in the coun­try for cheap­er and effec­tive solu­tions for your devel­op­ment. We are return­ing to the begin­ning: the out­lines of the reform of Russian sci­ence will become clear­er and more obvi­ous the more clear­ly the gov­ern­ment and par­lia­ment in the Russia of the future under­stand what kind of sci­ence the new econ­o­my needs.


The war deval­ued or damp­ened the sever­i­ty of many prob­lems that were solved in the process of reform­ing Russian sci­ence (we wrote about it here). Now there is no sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence in what exact­ly will hap­pen to the RAS, how many grant funds there will be in the coun­try and how the Higher Attestation Commission will func­tion. This is not what will deter­mine its devel­op­ment. Restoring aca­d­e­m­ic free­dom and aca­d­e­m­ic mobil­i­ty, inter­na­tion­al coop­er­a­tion and the insti­tu­tion of aca­d­e­m­ic rep­u­ta­tions can be achieved in dif­fer­ent ways if funds are found to revise the fun­da­men­tals and assess the exist­ing sci­en­tif­ic and edu­ca­tion­al poten­tial of the los­ing country.

The ques­tion on which the fate of Russian sci­ence real­ly depends is what kind of coun­try the cre­ators of the Russia of the future will build, what val­ues they will agree on with soci­ety. A soci­ety that val­ues human life and human free­dom will require the devel­op­ment of a human-ori­ent­ed econ­o­my, and this, in turn, will require the devel­op­ment of med­i­cine, com­put­er sci­ence, arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence, phi­los­o­phy, astro­physics and oth­er fields of knowl­edge, with­out which it is dif­fi­cult to imag­ine the mod­ern world.

Text: Olga Orlova


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