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Siberian scientists' alarm over government plans for reforming the Russian Academy of Sciences

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30 June 2013


The founders of the Siberian branch of Russian Academy of Science, academics S.Khristianovich, S.Sobolev, M. Lavrentyev and A. Trofimuk by the map of Akademgorodok, or Novosibirsk scientific centre. Picture: Siberian branch of Russian Academy of science museum 

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev claims the management structure of the country's Academies of Science are outdated. The announcement has a strong impact in Siberia and the Far East of Russia, in cities such as Novosibirsk, Krasnoyarsk, Irkutsk, Yakutsk, Khabarovsk and Vladovostok, all with major education and research bases.

'Russia now has six state academies, including the so-called 'big' Academy of sciences', Medvedev said. 'They conduct important research and continue making a big contribution to the development of domestic science. 

'However, the system for managing these structures dates back to the 1930s and the 1940s and was formed under the influence of subjective factors and, of course, no longer fully meets the modern tasks of the country's development'.

This system 'has needed improvement for a long time' he said, stressing: 'It is important to enable scientists to do scientific work and research and rid them of the functions of property and utilities management, which are foreign to them'.

Draft laws will be discussed in parliament next week containing 'specific mechanisms and procedures governing the reorganization of state academies of sciences'. Deputies aim to fast track it  ahead of the end of the spring session of parliament on 14 July. 

Dmitry Medvedev in Siberia June 2013

Prime minister Dmitry Medvedev in Siberia at the meeting with Irkutsk branch of United Russia. Picture: 

A letter signed by the leaders of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences has savagely attacked the plans.

'This document was prepared in a silence of ministers' offices and have never been discussed beyond them,' it stated. 'The aim is to urgently pass the draft law, within days, moments before the start of the Parliamentary holiday. This is not the way serious initiatives get to work on  but rather the way of military aggression or seizure by raid.

'This is not an accidental comparison, since the content of the draft law clearly indicates its intention to withdraw every possession of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and other state academies. We mean literally everything, not only the social infrastructure or life support systems. 

'The proposed administrative formation is not called the 'Agency of Scientific Institutes' for nothing. Its bureaucrats will be supposed to seize control over every tool of ours, to the smallest retort'.

In a scathing critique, the Siberian scientific leaders argue: 'They want to destroy not only the vitally important parts of state academies, but the whole body, the soul of Russian science. The destructive power of this conspiratorially prepared draft law is based on a handful of critical cliches, which have been numerously disproved before. 

'The real estate, the infrastructure and other resources of Russian academy of science are not managed by Academics themselves, but professionals. The Russian Academy of Sciences does not live off the rent, but is supported from the state budget, as well as contracts and grants. While the average age of the members of the Academy can not indeed be called young, the percentage of young researchers, especially in the institutes of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, is growing by the year. 

'There is no sense to remind about achievements in both fundamental and applied sciences by individual researchers and scientific teams, nor to mention hundreds of ready-to-be-applied innovative products made in institutes - despite the state budget of the whole Academy being comparable to the  budget of one university in America'. 

Building Russian Academy of Sciences in Saint Petersburg

Building of Russian Academy of Sciences in Saint Petersburg. Picture: Alex Florstein

The leaders of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Science warned: 'Dstruction of the Russian Academy of Sciences as a whole system would stop research vital for the country's sovereignty and security'.

And they claimed: 'It is not patriotism or responsibility that are behind the words about renovation in Russian science, but solely a desire to take academic resources under bureaucratic control'.

Previous reforms have created structures 'that were all mainly about grandiose salaries a gigantic untargeted spendings'.

'We fully understand the need in necessary changes from within Academy - Vladimir Fortov, the newly elected President of Russian Academy of Sciences was emphasising them during the recent general meeting. But the changes need to be though through in order to be effective'.

They warned: 'Not only Russian Academy of science with its regional and sectoral structures is under the Sword of Damocles; whether Russian science will survive, this is the question. The countdown has begun.'

The scientists called for the resignation of Minister of Education, Dmitry Livanov, and other Ministers. 

Monthly stipends for academy members will be hiked to 100,000 roubles ($3,000), said Livanov. Stipends now stand between 10,000 and 50,000 roubles.

The academy was founded by Tsar Peter the Great in 1724. Under the new plans it can be merged with state academies for agriculture and medicine. Three other state academies - for architecture, education and fine arts - can be stripped of their autonomy and become directly state-run.

Critics have called the current Academy a 'gerontocracy' and Dmitry Livanov described it in March as 'unsustainable and with no future'.

Comments (3)

it is a good chance to start thinking, and fast - and also to speak out about the future of Academy. I guess this idea of the reform will have a good shock therapy effect on the russian scientific community
May, China
02/07/2013 16:20
it is probably telling how few comments there are under this story... I hope the Academy will be strong enough to defend itself. One thing certainly has to be reformed about the Russian scientists - the amount of information that the world gets about them. It simply has to be more said about them.
Ute, Germany
02/07/2013 01:04
what's the rush with reform? there is a rude russian saying about trying to speed up what should happen in its own time (won't use it here), but what is behind the scenes here, whose game?
Polina, Germany
01/07/2013 00:40

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