President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr Sergeyev, the law on additional powers for the Academy, which I submitted and coordinated with you, was adopted in June. What can you say about its implementation?
President of the Russian Academy of Sciences Alexander Sergeyev: I would like to tell you how we started using these new powers, the areas where we have succeeded and the problems we have encountered.
I believe it was a wise decision to start implementing this law immediately, because the Academy needs these new powers to work energetically towards the implementation of the national projects in the next six years and thereby to strengthen its role in our society.
Vladimir Putin: Which powers are especially important now, and which of them have brought the first results?
Alexander Sergeyev: There are four groups of such powers.
The first group has to do with pinpointing the basic areas of research, technological and socioeconomic development in the country. We have entered a period of stable development and growth with relatively modest resources.
This means that we must make very careful and efficient plans, which is a serious academic task that calls for rallying the efforts of various groups of researchers.
We need mathematicians, who will develop models, plus economists, sociologists and political analysts. We believe that the Academy must become the scientific venue for such strategic planning.
We intend to create a strategic planning centre at the Academy, and we would like to ask for your support in this matter.
The second question has to do with the powers we got for the scientific and methodological management not only of the Academy’s institutions, but, generally speaking, of all research institutions in Russia as well as universities where research is conducted.
Therefore, we now have the authority to oversee national science on behalf of the government. This is very important now, because funds that go into scientific research are not spent very efficiently. We have discussed this at the latest meeting of the Presidential Council.
Vladimir Putin: You are becoming an umbrella organisation.
Alexander Sergeyev: Yes, we are becoming an umbrella organisation, which indeed will determine the guidelines for development.
It is very important that we will discuss a new programme of basic research for the long term, for 2021–2030, at our next academic meeting in April. We will consider what has been done on the previous programme, which is now being implemented, and outline our plans for the future.
It is very important for us that such powers for the scientific and methodological management of all scientific research activities are now given to us. This is my second point.
The third. Mr President, it is very important that we are tasked with increasing the number of researchers in Russia. We are primarily talking about young people, of course.
To attain this goal, we need to look very carefully at a researcher’s career path in general, starting from high school, and on to university and postgraduate studies: where that path forks, where we lose strong people who seem to take it initially and then drift to other fields.
Vladimir Putin: The percentage of young researchers has actually grown.
Alexander Sergeyev: It has grown, but this is not enough, because if we consider the number of researchers per 10,000 people, as is the usual way to evaluate it, Russia is now lagging behind stronger science-oriented countries. In addition, we have a two-humped curve in the distribution of researchers by age groups.
We see a peak at 30–40 years, then a big hollow at 40–50 years, a huge gap, and then another “hump” with 60-year-olds. It is clear that in another decade, the people responsible for this second “hump” will quit active work in science for obvious age reasons, and therefore, we need to significantly increase the inflow of young personnel.
In addition, it is very important that we all together (I will also ask for your help here) work on raising the prestige of science in the country.
The third group of powers concerns education. The academy is making huge investments into secondary education and has increased attention to the training of self-driven young people at universities.
There is a big problem with post-graduate studies. We have been discussing it at length but have not found a solution to it as yet. As you know, we have very few post-graduate students.
Vladimir Putin: It is a separate subject, which we discussed before. Post-graduate studies must not be seen merely as a continuation of higher education. It is more than just another stage of higher education, for it concerns the training of young researchers.
Alexander Sergeyev: We must create conditions for the first stage of research. This is very important.
And lastly, the fourth group of powers has to do with academic diplomacy. We are working in this area very actively now. We are opening offices of the Russian Academy of Sciences in other countries. I would like to ask your advice on building relations with different countries.
We have major plans to create inter-academic research exchange centres. Our academic exchanges were actually suspended in 2013, along with the important programmes we were implementing with many countries.
Bearing this new power in mind, we have requested funding for international academic exchanges, and we hope that these funds will be allocated to the academy.
As part of these exchanges, we would like to create several centres that would receive working groups for brainstorming projects. It is a relatively new form of academic interaction, when the best minds from many countries come together for a week or two to address a problem.
It is not a conference but a working meeting of some 20 or 30 top professionals who get together to analyse trends and results and map out solutions.
The countries that are actively involved in organising such meetings and hosting such brainstorming activities automatically move into the focus of academic attention.
Vladimir Putin: There are no restrictions in this sphere. We should cooperate with anyone who wants to work with us.
The only thing I would like to point out is that we do not lose but only benefit from this work, which must be based on equal contribution and equal exchanges.
This is what we must strive for. We must not be used only as a source of skills and knowledge. When we share something with our partners, we must be able to receive equally important information from them.
Alexander Sergeyev: At least equally important information.
Overall, we would like the vector of interest to point towards us rather than in the opposite direction.
Vladimir Putin: I fully agree with you.