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Russia’s government launches reform in Academy of Sciences

June 28, 2013, 11:09 UTC+3
State-run academies of education, arts and architecture will remain independent
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On Thursday Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev approved a bill liquidating three academies - the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences and the Russian Academy of Agricultural Sciences. A new unified public organization - the Russian Academy of Sciences - will appear instead.

State-run academies of education, arts and architecture will remain independent, but they can be taken under jurisdiction of the federal executive authorities. A special body - an Agency of Research Institutions at the Russian Academy of Sciences - will be created to manage the academy’s property.

Under the bill, the reform will consist of several stages, the Kommersant business daily wrote. The Russian Academy of Sciences, the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences and the Russian Academy of Agricultural Sciences will be de facto liquidated. Within three months following the law’s entry into force, the government will appoint liquidation commissions for these academies that will form three lists of institutions and organizations under their jurisdiction.

The first list will include organizations that will be controlled by a new federal Agency of Research Institutions at the Russian Academy of Sciences (it will be controlled directly by the prime minister). The second list - institutes that will be handed over to other bodies of power (for instance, medical institutions can be taken under control by the Health Ministry). And, finally, the third list of institutes will face reforms entailing new staff or liquidation. All organizations are banned to change ownership patterns, to reregister or to remove property until all lists are finalized.

Kommersant asked Russian researchers and scientists what they thought about the reform. “It is evident that scientists should pursue science and not property management. But what should be done for scientists to pursue science and not to be destroyed as a class?” said Mikhail Feigelman, deputy director of the L. D. Landau Institute for Theoretical Physics.

“The Academy has been resisting reforms for a long while and now it is reformed from the outside. And this is bad,” said Konstantin Severinov, the head of the laboratory at the Institute of Molecular Genetics.

A member of the Presidium at the Russian Academy of Sciences, Konstantin Severinov, expressed confidence that the creation of a property management agency “will certainly harm science.”

Russia will create a membership-based state association Russian Academy of Sciences and a special body - the Agency of Research Institutions - to manage the academy’s property, the Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily wrote. This means that academicians will be separated from distribution of funds for research and from the budget process. This is a great advantage, the daily believes.

“Serious restructuring of all academic structures is absolutely necessary,” a corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, mathematician Alexander Abramov, was quoted by Nezavisimaya Gazeta as saying. “It raises concern that this decision was being developed secretly and from the top down. Now it is still not tragic and everything can be moved onto right track.”

An academician at the Russian Academy of Sciences, who wanted to stay anonymous, said the Academy deserves such attitude. “Crazy elections, crazy candidates - all this cannot but annoy the public at large and the authorities. That’s what we have now.”

Persons interviewed by Nezavisimaya Gazeta believe that the main and the most difficult thing the Russian Academy of Sciences is facing ahead is the future of concrete academic institutes. They will remain without a powerful corporate shelter. The authorities will deal with every institution separately.

The director-general of the Centre for Political Information, Alexei Mukhin, said since 1991 no breakthroughs in science have been made. The Russian Academy of Sciences has the world’s lowest research rates. Russian scientists rank 120th in the list of 145 countries by publication of research articles. The thing is not only in the number of publications, the thing is in their quality, it is too low. Russia ranks 77th, after Nigeria, by the average number of references per publication in 1996-2009.

“The current Academy, which proves ineffective and lacks influence in the world science, which consists of elderly people or those of retirement age, who mainly focus on their formal research ratings, simply cannot give the product it is designed to produce - breakthrough researches,” the political scientist said. “Taking into account the fact that the Russian science lags even more behind, mainly in most high-tech sectors, all this becomes the issue of the country’s national security.”

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