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Russian government’s science academy reform runs into academicians’ resistance

July 02, 2013, 18:10 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

MOSCOW, July 2 (Itar-Tass) - The reform of the Russian Academy of Sciences, drafted by Education and Science Minister Dmitry Livanov and approved by the Dmitry Medvedev government, has met with fierce resistance from many RAS members and some political forces. The controversial reform envisages drastic modernization of the academy. Also, it will strip the scientific community of many economic functions. The critics argue that the reform has been imposed on them from above, without prior discussions. The Communists are going to initiate a motion of no confidence in the government.

The government approved of the RAS reorganization last week. Dmitry Medvedev said during the discussion of the draft that the RAS system “has long required reforming.”

Livanov later disclosed the details of the RAS fundamental reorganization. Today’s Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS), Academy of Medical Science, and Academy of Agricultural Science will be replaced by one socio-governmental organization called Russian Academy of Sciences. Another three academies - Russian Academy of Education, Russian Academy of Architecture and Building Sciences and Russian Academy of Fine Arts will be handed over to the empowered federal agencies.

The yet-to-be established association Russian Academy of Sciences is to become a “community of outstanding scientists conducting scientific, analytical and popularizing activities, performing the function of a major communication floor for the scientific community, but not governing the properties and having no subordinate research organizations,” Livanov explained. A special agency will be created to manage the property of the newly-established academy.

The members of the eliminated Russian Academy of Sciences, Russian Academy of Medical Science and Russian Agricultural Academy will be admitted to the newly-established academy and retain their rank. The newly-elected RAS president, Vladimir Fortov, is to lead the new association.

Livanov sees the main obstacles to the development of science in Russia in an archaic structure of the government-run science academies and the lack of a mechanism of outside control of the quality of scientific results and of transparent mechanisms of disbursing and spending funds. As follows from what Livanov has said, the RAS reform will address at least the first of the aforesaid issues.

The education and science minister believes that the current situation in the national science is disastrous.

“In 2012 the share of scientists of pension retirement age was above 40 percent. That’s a real disaster,” Livanov said, adding that the share of scientists in the most productive age of 30 through 49 kept declining.

“These tendencies are fraught with considerable risks the country may lose the status of a leading scientific power,” Livanov said.

As the daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta says, the Russian Academy of Sciences has one of the lowest ratings in the world: in terms of scientific publications Russian scientists hold 120th place on a list of 145 countries. The average number of publications per one RAS member in 2003-2007 was 1.43. In contrast to China’s 2.81, Germany’s 9.17 and France’s 10.11. By the average number of quotations per one publication in 1996-2009 Russia was in 77th place right after Nigeria. The RAS’s low ratings are another argument in favor of its reform.

In the meantime most Russian scientists have risen in revolt against the government bill and the government as such. The RAS members argue that the bill is not worth discussing, because it causes irreparable harm to Russian science. After a meeting of the RAS presidium the key academics urged the legislators to stop the adoption of the bill before it undergoes any readings. RAS Presidium member Gennady Mesyats said that the initiative of the Medvedev Cabinet would not only ruin the academy. “It will destroy it altogether and 100,000 people will find themselves nobody knows where.”

RAS President Vladimir Fortov complained that the reform would turn the academy, once an organization of researchers, into a “hobby club,” whose sole function will be to give advice. He believes that the American model the authors of the reform has selected as a pattern to follow is not applicable in Russia, because “we have not yet created competitive science at universities.” Fortov added that many academics said they would not join the newly-founded science academy.

Nobel laureate Zhores Alfyorov said, “Our top priority task is to block the hasty adoption of that law. It must be postponed and undergo wide discussion.” Alfyorov urged the legislators to unanimously dismiss the bill and to demand the dismissal of those who authored it.”

Scientists across the nation have promised to stage protest actions. The presidium of the Far Eastern Branch of the Academy of Sciences demanded the resignation of the government, for the scientists regard its actions as “irresponsible, cynical and doomed to fail.” The Siberian branch of the Academy of Sciences has linked the reform with the “obvious failure of the Rosnano and Skolkovo projects.”

“It is an attempt to shirk responsibility for their failure and for squandering heavy budget funds,” the Siberian office of the RAS said.

The reform has supporters, but there are far fewer of them.

The first deputy president of the Russian Academy of Medical Science, Mikhail Paltsev, agrees with the need for changing the current system. “The Academy of Sciences and its image are to become more attractive as a result of reforms, to look appealing to youth and to stop the massive exodus of young people to the western research centers,” he said.

Earlier, the need for reforming the system of management was raised by Nobel laureate Konstantin Novosyolov, Konstantin Severinov and also Nobel laureate Andre Geim and Maxim Frank-Kamenetskii, both working abroad.

The RAS reform will was submitted to the State Duma last Friday. Despite the protests the State Duma is going to consider it on Wednesday July 3. After that the lower house of parliament will rise for the summer to resume the discussion in the autumn.

State Duma speaker Sergei Naryshkin promised that the opinion of the RAS leadership will certainly be taken into account.

In the meantime, the outcome of the debate looks predetermined. The United Russia party, which has a majority in the lower house of parliament, is determined to support the bill already in the first reading.

The Communist faction has declared the intention to initiate a motion of no confidence in the government. State Duma deputy speaker Ivan Melnikov, of the CPRF faction, has warned that the latest developments have caused the cup of patience to overflow.

The CPRF faction will spend the rest of the week collecting legislators’ signatures in support of the idea. The motion of no confidence will be put on the agenda in September, as soon as the legislators gather after the summer recess. The Communists - the largest oppositional faction in parliament - have not made any such attempts for the past eight years.