Intended reform of the RAS has been in the focus of the public attention.
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President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr Fortov, I want to congratulate you once again on your election as President of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Your work dovetailed with discussions of the new draft law on reorganising the Academy and the entire academic sector. Together with you and the [Academy’s] former President [Yury Osipov], we have talked a lot about this. Strictly speaking, no one in our society or scientific community believes we can simply preserve the current situation, but everyone – and this is the most important thing – says that we are to move forward, and that reforms and changes are called for. True, the challenge consists in making these changes appropriate for the spirit of the time and the requirements of scientific development.
You know that over the past few years the state has increasingly invested in research activities. Of course, in some areas this is perhaps not at the same levels as in certain other countries, though in some fields the funds are already comparable. Naturally, society and even people who are in no way involved in any scientific activity but invest money there as taxpayers, our entire nation has the right to expect major, quality, socially useful results of scientific research.
I have carefully studied the views of both the ardent supporters of the proposed changes and their critics. I must say that both parties have arguments that should be taken into account and undoubtedly accepted. There are some things that are questionable, and it would be right to think about what we could do in addition to avoid errors and to prevent them from occurring.
In this connection, I would like to draw your attention to one of the key provisions of this draft bill, one that I would like to discuss with you today. Namely, the establishment of an agency which would manage [the Academies’] assets and, in fact, assume a key function. It would appoint directors of academic institutions, and through those appointments, assess and evaluate the institutions’ activities. I’ve seen references to Peter the Great’s time, but we know that at that time all heads were appointed. Now it seems that this is not advisable. It is because of this that those who believe that bureaucrats should not have these powers are probably right.
I have a counter proposal. I know that many prominent scientists have formulated this idea and I’ll reproduce it here. The idea is to establish a separate structure within the Presidential Council for Education and Science, a structure within the Council itself. This would comprise a number of our most prominent, famous, successful scientists, both nationally and internationally recognised ones, and it would have the following functions: to appoint directors of academic institutions, evaluate the results of scientific research together with the Academy of Sciences, its experts, and independent experts (we talked about this at one of the last Council meetings), and thus, to a large extent influence the allocation of financial resources for scientific research.
Of course, it is absolutely necessary that we work harmoniously to update interdepartmental institutions and the Academy as a whole. We all know the average age of academics is quite high. It’s certainly not the kind of activity that involves physical labour, which requires strong hands and quick feet, but nevertheless we all know what has happened in global science for many, many decades, even centuries, and around which age the most significant discoveries are made.
But all the same reforms should proceed gently, smoothly and gradually, so that we do not make another mistake. So that experts who speak boldly and move quickly, but are not yet mature enough to lead the entire sector, do not entirely displace people of a certain age, but who are experienced and active. Therefore we have to think together about how to create an effective mechanism for rejuvenating our science.
And finally, about the agency that will manage assets. Of course first of all we are to conduct an audit. We talked about this with Yury Osipov, and he agreed. An audit of how the property has been managed, what problems exist, what we need to do away with from previous years, and how to configure this huge property complex so that it can best foster Russian science.
In this regard, I have another suggestion. If you agree, during a transitional period – and this would be inserted in the law – the President-elect of the Academy of Sciences, that is you yourself, would also head the property agency, and therefore take on much of its work.
Finally, there is one more thing to which I would like to draw your attention. In recent years, along with world-famous scientists who really have done a lot for applied and fundamental sciences, the Academy is increasingly populated by my colleagues from various government agencies and high-level officials. These people are very active, respected, and have a certain amount of leverage in all spheres of activity, including in scientific research.
Of course, we must first of all analyse whether they have made a real contribution to science, and how they will continue their activities either in administrative structures or in a scientific field. This seems like a small thing, but it affects the functioning of the Academy itself, so I don’t think this is an idle question. In any case, we have to pay attention to this issue in order to prevent any extravagant solutions here; nevertheless, all colleagues have to understand where they work and what their priorities must be.