Progress by Integration

Article excerpt

Helping Russian Science

Though all Russian institutions have suffered tremendously during the transition to democracy and capitalism, few organizations have endured as much hardship as the scientific establishment.

Ten years ago Russia's 1.5 million researchers were the largest scientific force in the world. Today these same scientists form a poorly organized community whose situation continues to deteriorate. Unfortunately, the conservatism of many members of Russia's scientific hierarchy and the near bankruptcy of the central government have seriously limited the prospects for remodeling the outdated Soviet research system. Despite these obstacles, many scientists are taking steps to reverse the decline of their institutions.

Today, Russia's scientific establishment is in disarray. During the mid-1990s, in a movement that became known as Russia's "brain drain," thousands of scientists left their research posts in search of better-paying or more prestigious jobs in the private sector or in other countries. Researchers who remained in Russia discovered that its institutions were antiquated: the new and supposedly improved Russian Academy of Science (RAS), for example, was nearly identical to its Soviet predecessor, the Academy of Science. Funding was already scarce, but it continued to fall as both domestic and foreign contributions disappeared. Meanwhile, the number of private universities increased, providing greater competition with the aging state system.

Despite the troubles of modern Russian science, there have been attempts by many policymakers to restore Russia's past scientific glory. The most recent attempt is a project called Integration that is endorsed by Russia's new Science Minister, Mikhail Kirpichnikov. The advocates of Integration hope that it will reform key areas of Russia's scientific infrastructure without angering reactionary elements--more traditional scientists--within the scientific research community.

Integration began in the mid-1990s as an attempt by the Russian government to increase communication between private universities and state-run academies. Concern with Russia's inability to adapt to the methods and systems of Western science has led to strong support for Integration from both the Russian Education Ministry and from foreign institutions such as the Carnegie and MacArthur Foundations. Kirpichnikov has increased the government's annual contribution to US$32 million and has set aside funds to buy equipment for new RAS-university cooperatives called Centers of Excellence. Unfortunately, funding still does not fully meet Integration's goals, and of the more than 300 Centers originally established, only 30 are expected to survive to the end of this year. Nevertheless, the Centers represent a step forward, and Integration maintains a variety of other programs designed to break down the divisions within Russian science and to make the research establishment competitive with the Western world.

The most formidable structural problem within Russia's research system is the lack of coordination and organization among its many components. Most Russian research is still conducted in state-run academies that rely on support from the government; currently, 90 percent of all research dollars come from the public sector. This system contrasts with the US system of private university research that relies much less on public funding for support. Unlike the academies, which do not offer courses to students, the private universities provide greater interaction between students and scientists, now considered by the West to be a major criterion for successful research. Since Russian scientists must choose between research or teaching, the division between research and teaching staffs has spread Russia's human resources thin. …