President of Russia Vladimir Putin: We have a sufficient number of what are known as mega-grant programmes, and some time ago we met with scientists who are working within the framework of these programmes, and quite successfully, too. We agreed to continue this programme and search for sources of financing. Funds have been raised – importantly, for more than one year. We agreed that this programme would continue for several years. How is this work organised and where do we stand?
Russian Science Foundation General Director Alexander Khlunov: The programme has been developed and we are pleased to say that the tender has been announced. However, before going into detail, I would like to offer a general picture of what is going on in Russian science.
We have quite impressive indicators in terms of results, and Russian science has been growing from year to year. The number of publications by Russian researchers in highly respected journals has grown.
It is encouraging that young people going into science is a stable and important trend that has been maintained for years now. Science has become a sphere where it is not only exciting but also prestigious to work. The structure of Russian science is changing. Young people have moved into spheres related to scientific priorities, addressing social and economic needs, although, of course, physics remains the forte of Russian science: high-energy physics, mathematics and other areas. Nevertheless, a significant number of young researchers have moved into new priority fields.
Another important trend is the arrival of leaders in Russian science. These are not only individual scientists but also organisations working on successful projects. Against this backdrop, a programme was developed in keeping with your directives, which is aimed, above all, at bringing more young people into Russian scientific organisations and promoting research in Russia.
This programme spans a seven-year period, which allows us to follow the career paths of talented young people and promote a new image of fundamental research in Russia with new enterprising scientists.
The first event is designed for those who have earned their PhD, are under 33 years old, have the credentials to work in science but in reality have not yet established themselves, which normally happens a bit later.
In order to change the situation, we provide the young PhD a two-year grant of 1.5 to 2 million rubles so that they can conduct their research under new conditions.
The mobility issue is also addressed, which has been a long-standing problem for Russian science: we continue working where we went to university and got our PhDs. We raise the grant to two million roubles for those who agree to do their research project in a different research or educational organisation, or in another region, so that there is an exchange of competences, an exchange of knowledge, which would allow us to develop science at a faster pace.
The second measure involves leaders, organisers, which is to say young people with doctorates and post-doctorates. They are already eligible to receive a 3–5 year grant depending on their achievements, the grant totalling five million roubles.
This young person puts together a small research team of three to five members who must be young, in order to carry out an independent research project within that timeframe, and acts as the project’s leader. This affords a fairly significant interval to young people, up to seven years, which they need to establish themselves and make progress in science.
Another measure, which you also discussed with mega-grant holders, is the development of projects at leading laboratories. We have announced a competition offering up to 30 million a year to leading laboratories. The idea also envisages the possibility of businesses and founders partaking in the development of the laboratory.
And we think it crucial for research results to have economic or social applications in Russia. This will have to involve the growth of research co-financing and, essentially, a subsequent innovative component from other stakeholders to address practical applications of research results.
This measure is designed to last from four to seven years. We begin with low requirements for co-financing, but our Foundation is ready to invest thirty million roubles while we ask for two million in co-financing. However, the co-financing share will increase as the project progresses so that the innovative component can take shape.
The latest measure under the programme is infrastructure development, which we have also spoken to leading scientists about. The problem here is that the building of new facilities has been funded from the budget for a long time, and the problem now is not the money, it is the efficient use of the facilities.
We offer a large grant for up to seven years as well. A consortium puts together an array of research projects, up to ten projects, with up to six million roubles for each, so that those projects selected on a competitive basis are implemented at a given facility. This creates a synergetic effect that puts intelligence into action, rather than money: the best research projects on upgraded research infrastructure.
Regarding the scale of the programme, for the first contest, we will hold it annually for seven years, which will encompass 600 young PhD holders, according to current plans. This is a very significant number for our country, and it is a fairly good number even by global standards.
Vladimir Putin: Annually?
Alexander Khlunov: Yes, annually.
The second contest involves young research leaders. We expect to obtain 200 projects, the contest will also be held annually, and the Russian Federation will have 200 research projects, 200 new research teams.
The last two contests are not so substantial in terms of number of participants but they are substantial in their results: we are going to have 30 laboratories. This should solidify the current positive trends in Russian science and further their progress.
I would like to stress that the amount for the seven-year programme is 58.5 billion rubles. The funding is ensured by asset contribution by the Russian Federation to the fund. This year and next year also, we will have funding sources outside the budget. Essentially, the issue of funding has also been solved.
There is a legal framework in place for the contests. The decisions in all the contests will be made by leading scientists, an expert council with no government officials, and this will serve as a guarantee that the consideration of applications will be quite objective, while the monitoring and reporting will be sorted out within a year.
Vladimir Putin: Does the deadline for applications expire early next month?
Alexander Khlunov: Applications for the first contest.
Vladimir Putin: The 17th of April.
Alexander Khlunov: Right, but we shall provide the money to the grant winners as early as June. There are some novelties: we as a fund are allowed to depart from the budget system. We will fund [the projects] for the calendar year starting on the date of the agreement, without reference to 1 January or 31 December, and there may be intervals related to the budgeting process. All this will be done.
Another new aspect that the scientists wanted to sway us toward is that the application would be made a two-step process due to the large numbers of applicants. This means that we first announce the idea, the expert council selects a certain final set of applications and those finalists submit applications, which allows for a more detailed consideration of research plans in the traditional manner, so that they can be examined by those 3,5 thousand Foundation experts.
Vladimir Putin: Are the scientists I met involved in the process?
Alexander Khlunov: We had two meetings. First, we suggested they should submit their proposals, then we summarised those proposals in a kind of draft document. Afterwards we had a special meeting with more leading scientists invited. Everyone was able to discuss the draft document.
We now have, at least by email, the total approval by the team, regarding mega grant winners, of the programme’s structure and the contests that have been announced.
Vladimir Putin: But it was exactly they who spoke about the need to engage young researchers for them to have prospects. Are you managing to combine these two issues?
Alexander Khlunov: Mr President, I have already said that six hundred people…
Vladimir Putin: Yes, that is clear, but they are not on their own, they are with those scientists who have already proven themselves to be brilliant, world-class researchers, that is what they told me.
Alexander Khlunov: We have secured this opportunity for them too, since the contest for new labs envisions not only research supervision by leading scientists, including those mega grant winners, but also an opportunity within that contest: the supported laboratories during the first year will have to announce an open world contest for so-called post docs, people with PhDs, so as to engage the best staff for the project implementation. This means we have fully realised this idea following their proposal, and in my view, they have a chance to continue the work, and not they alone.
Vladimir Putin: Theapplicants.
Alexander Khlunov: Yes, we do not offer guarantees to anybody, this is a contest in any case. The winner will be determined by the expert council.
Vladimir Putin: In any case, they will work themselves too and will engage our young researchers.
Alexander Khlunov: Definitely. But this is an open fund, there are no restrictions regarding place of registration, or nationality; we already have a number of foreigners employed, in fact, we are also ready to invite Germans as contractors. Recently, as we were signing an agreement in Tokyo, I had to give a talk there, and it turned out there were scientists among the audience who are working on projects on the territory of the Russian Federation.
Vladimir Putin: Those I met with work at different research centres: in America, in Europe, wherever.
Alexander Khlunov: It is really important that they should contribute their knowledge and expertise to the implementation of particular projects.