Russia’s prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, has announced that RUB350 billion (£3.95 billion) will be set aside for scientific research this year. Medvedev said that, despite massive cuts to state spending this year, the government will keep funding national science at the same level as 2014. But changes in the way that the funding will be distributed has caused alarm among the country’s scientists.
Around RUB115 billion will go to basic science, while the remainder will be for applied research. Unlike previous years, however, the majority of the money will be meted out competitively in a similar way to the handling of research funding in Europe and the US. Under the terms of the new scheme, a special state commission will select the best and most promising projects.
Russian scientists have been quick to criticise this decision though. Alexander Kuleshov, a mathematical modeller and member of the Russian Academy of Science (RAS), says: ‘The use of a model of competitive financing is good news; however, such a scheme should be implemented only in conjunction with a state funding model. Lack of state funding will result in the fact that much scientific research in Russia will not receive funding, will be suspended or entirely frozen.’
The same opinion is shared by physicist Eugene Onishchenko, another member of the RAS. He warns that most the funding will end up with those with the best connections to the Russian science and education ministry, rather than the best science.
Valery Rubakov, a physicist and member of the RAS, warns that distributing funding in this way may also lead to the closure of labs and research facilities. This is because if a lab fails to secure funding through the competitive bidding process it could be left without any financial support at all. He also adds that the funding process lacks transparency. The RAS has said that adoption of the new scheme will result in a significant increase in costs, with money likely to be distributed among a small group of scientists.
Russian scientists have also been critical of the increasingly hostile media climate for foreign scientists working in the country. Kendrick White, a US citizen, was recently fired from his post as vice-rector of Lobachevsky State University of Nizhny Novgorod after state television accused him of undermining Russia. In another example of hostility to foreign influence in the country, the Dynasty Foundation, a Russian organisation which handed out grants to promising young scientists, closed its doors after being branded a ‘foreign agent’ under a new Russian law. The organisation receives some funding from western sources. Russian scientists have warned that such actions will deter top scientists from around the world from working in the country.