Meeting participants discussed developing research infrastructure, including support for multi-user research centres and improving evaluations of the performance by scientific organisations.
The meeting was held at the B. P. Konstantinov St Petersburg Nuclear Physics Institute. Founded in 1956, today the institute is one of the four nuclear physics centres that are part of the National Research Centre Kurchatov Institute. The Konstantinov institute conducts fundamental research in particle physics, high energy physics, nuclear physics, as well as molecular and radiation biophysics. In addition, applied research in the fields of instrumentation, medicine and environmental studies is being carried out there. The institute employs about 2,000 people.
After the meeting the President got acquainted with the Institute’s work. Director of the National Research Centre Kurchatov Institute Mikhail Kovalchuk told President Putin about the work of its neutron reactors. Vladimir Putin also spoke with students in physics from St Petersburg State University.
Speech at the meeting of the Presidential Council for Science and Education
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, friends and colleagues.
We are meeting at St Petersburg’s Nuclear Physics Institute, one of Russia’s leading research centres and, we can quite rightly say, the world’s. We can be proud of this. I hope that the Kurchatov Centre’s executives will appreciate receiving what I consider to be a considerable delegation. [Director of the National Research Centre Kurchatov Institute] Mr Kovalchuk is doing everything to ensure that this venue performs no worse, and perhaps even better, than the main organisation, because there are people here who can achieve good results, there is everything for enabling these results to be reached, and for them to make us all proud. I think that we shall talk about this again today.
Today I propose that we discuss questions of fundamental importance for the development of our national science. I am thinking of improving research infrastructure. Probably many of you paid attention to the so-called Direct Line [with Vladimir Putin]. The questions your colleagues asked were first and foremost concerned with this, namely developing research infrastructure.
“I consider it important not only to provide government support for multi-user centres, but also to focus this support on specific research priorities to be established with the direct involvement of the scientific community.”
We shall talk about measures to improve evaluations of scientific organisations and the results of their work. Decent wages in science, an effective system of grants for research teams and young scientists – recently, we have been talking constantly about these crucially important things. And in this respect at least something is being done. We are undoubtedly going to continue this work. But of course it alone is not enough.
You know, I try to meet regularly with teams of scientists, students, and graduate students, and more than once I’ve heard from researchers themselves that wages are not everything. Although I will repeat that they are something fundamental, without which nothing at all can be done properly. But at the end of the day they are not everything. People need ambitious objectives and the scientific, research base that will allow them to implement the very bravest creative ideas.
In this respect the situation is also changing gradually for the better. Thus the value of Russian scientific organisations’ fixed assets has increased by about 3.5 times over 10 years, and the value of our researchers’ technical equipment has almost doubled. Today, more than half the scientific equipment used in Russia is less than five years old, while more than 80 percent is less than ten. In general this is usually quite a good, worthy indicator.
In order to achieve a greater return on investments and consolidate our resources, we decided to establish multi-user scientific centres in Russia. I would point out that this practice is used in many countries around the world. Since 2005 constructing a network of multi-user research centres has been carried out as part of our federal target programme.
At the end of 2012 Russia had 253 multi-user centres; 158 of those were overseen by the Government, 93 were run by state academies of sciences, and two had no affiliation. They concentrate scientific equipment worth a total of 33.2 billion rubles [$1 billion] and employ 8,680 people.
Now young researchers, experienced professionals, and representatives of the academic community can work in the most advanced laboratories which are located in all the Russian Federation’s federal districts.
We should maximise the impact of the work done at these centres. For that reason I consider it important not only to provide government support for multi-user centres, but also to focus this support on specific research priorities to be established with the direct involvement of the scientific community.
I understand that defining a list of priorities is a difficult thing that always triggers an energetic discussion. Therefore I would propose that you conduct such a discussion during our Council meeting or that of its board. But to accomplish this task we must certainly draw on the resources of the scientific community itself.
I would ask [Presidential Aide] Mr [Andrei] Fursenko, with whom we have been talking for quite a long time since this morning about our meeting today, to oversee the relevant work. And I would ask the Russian Government to identify the sources and forms of targeted funding for multi-user centres with a view to regularly modernising their equipment.
“I consider it necessary to create research councils in all centres, councils which will determine the research programmes that benefit from budgetary funding on a competitive basis.”
I concede that the costs of centres’ upkeep may increase. However, increasing funding also implies that we are undoubtedly in our rights to expect world-class scientific results from our scientists in the most promising fields.
With this in mind, I consider it necessary to create research councils in all centres, councils which will determine the research programmes that benefit from budgetary funding on a competitive basis. So that not just one person determines certain priorities, but rather they will be set collectively, based on the priorities laid out by the state.
Along with this I want to mention that we should not deprive centres of the opportunity to conduct research for third parties and to earn money for their services. However, the conditions for accessing the opportunities offered by a multi-user research centre must be transparent and meet the interests and requirements of the development of Russian science.
Naturally, the possibilities and prospects of domestic scientific infrastructure are not limited to multi-user research centres. The pinnacles of scientific infrastructure are international research centres, so-called mega science facilities. That is where unique, large-scale experiments, which at times require the concerted efforts of a number of countries, are carried out. Such settings allow researchers to achieve qualitative breakthroughs in basic research and thereby achieve scientific priorities, become leaders in important branches of knowledge, and attract the best scientific forces in the country and the world at large.
Russia is involved in a number of such projects; in fact, in almost all the major ones: the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor in France, the European x-ray free electron laser in Germany, as well as other projects and initiatives too.
In 2011 the governmental commission for high-tech and innovation decreed creating facilities of this class in our country, in Russia. I would like to ask you to speak to this question today. For example, our current venue is also a possible option.
Another issue on our agenda concerns a very important area, namely evaluating the performance of scientific organisations and the results of their work. We will discuss the current results, look at where the problems lie, and the ways to resolve them.
What do I think is necessary to mention in this connection? Of course the current tool for evaluating the performance of scientific organisations and the results of their work has certain disadvantages; you know about them yourselves, or at any rate I have heard about them from you in different instances. It does not allow us to single out true leaders in a given research sector, and impact assessments are not linked to funding received by research organisations.
We have to elaborate a system that objectively analyses the performance of scientific organisations (here I would like to emphasise that it should be a national system for objectively evaluating scientific organisations), along with departmental evaluations, and actively involve professional experts in this work. Besides, this evaluation system should apply both to scientific institutions and their structural units: departments, laboratories and so on. This will allow us to concentrate public resources in those areas where we can indeed expect impressive new results, and receive the promising outcomes much needed by our society and economy.
Once again let me emphasise that it’s not just about Russia’s scientific reputation, but also the development of our economy, education, healthcare and other crucially important areas of our lives. I am convinced that they must be grounded in our own scientific achievements.
Thank you very much for your attention.
Vladimir Putin: We really did discuss actively the issues that were raised and there were quite a few problematic ones. They really do exist, but we will continue working towards resolving them as we have been doing.
But a general understanding that positive trends are gaining momentum in Russian science, and that we have taken the necessary practical steps to address various problems is also important. This applies to scientific infrastructure, and just now – despite a certain amount of criticism about how multi-use centres are being used – we heard that this general understanding is developing and catching on more widely.
“Positive trends are gaining momentum in Russian science. We continue to develop grant funding, and the situation with regards to wages is changing.”
There are problems and our colleagues just talked about them. We will take note of all of them, make the appropriate adjustments to the drafts of instructions we’ve prepared, and change formulations as required. We continue to develop grant funding, and the situation with regards to wages is changing. Today salaries in the research and development sector are higher than the average.
Of course we understand that this is not enough, and we will consistently work towards ensuring that by 2018 the average salary in scientific fields is 200 percent of the average wage in each particular Russian region. This is no easy task, but it can be accomplished. I said average wage but let me be more specific: I am referring to the average income, not wage, because we all know that the income of a teacher at a school is one thing, and the income of researchers in a corresponding scientific institution is another. I think that this is clear and understood.
As was already said, we managed to make progress towards resolving the housing problem, but just progress yet. Naturally, the problem is far from being resolved. I heard what [President of the Russian Academy of Sciences] Mr Osipov said; let’s try to extend this and work at it, carefully but really work at it.
The proportion of young researchers under 40 is increasing in research organisations. This is also an indicator of the positive trends that I mentioned previously.
Today [General Director of the All-Russian Scientific Research Institute of Aviation Materials] Mr Kablov spoke about the need to increase requirements when evaluating the performance of scientific organisations. There are criticisms concerning how the Government formulated achieving this goal. Let me repeat once again that nothing is set in stone, there is nothing that cannot be taken up for discussion. The Ministry is thinking about this; the Minister does not object.
Naturally national evaluations must be decisive, and we must involve experts, including foreign ones. [Director of the A. V. Zhirmunsky Institute of Marine Biology of the Far Eastern Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences] Mr Adrianov talked about exactly this, about how they involved our Japanese friends and partners. We will think about all of this and write it out in instructions.
I am convinced that the academic community should play a significant role and bear a significant responsibility in this work. [Vice President of the Russian Academy of Sciences] Mr Alferov talked about this. I fully share his position, and we will ensure that this comes to pass.
(To Yury Osipov.) Mr Osipov, at the next meeting of our Council this autumn, we plan to take up issues relating to fundamental science. I would ask you to work at preparing this issue, and also to think about how to improve the efficiency of state academies of sciences, and how to engage research institutions attached to academies of sciences in evaluating the outcomes of scientific activity in our research institutions. I would ask you to get personally involved in those preparations on both matters.
We all know that the Academy of Sciences is now entering a particular period, I mean in the light of the election of its new President, but I would nevertheless ask you not to shy away from this work. I very much expect your help and support, and I’m looking forward to your suggestions.
Thank you very much for your teamwork today.