Moscow seeks to energise science

November 10, 1995

Russian premier Viktor Chernomyrdin has set the development of science as a state major priority, after the first meeting of the government's new Commission for Science and Technical Policy.

The commission's main task, he told the media, will be to transform Russian science, replacing bare survival with positive growth. Special emphasis will be placed on promoting fundamental research and preserving and developing Russia's top scientific institutes, universities and research facilities.

The new "doctrine of scientific development" calls for competition between various research organisations and cooperation between government and scientific organisations.

All this will, of course, cost money. The commission has asked for 3 per cent of the federal budget to be earmarked for science spending. Mr Chernomyrdin said that the preliminary draft for the 1996 budget could not stretch so far, but that the planned allocation would be raised "during the work of the conciliation commission".

He stressed that the state could no longer support inefficient scientific organisations and would concentrate resources on priority areas, particularly those of international importance. In what looks like a further move towards western-style distribution of research funds, the commission set up a "consultative council" to assess the merits of research programmes seeking state funding.

During its next meeting in December, the commission will address the problem of research serving both the military and civil sectors for which, to date, no provision has been made in next year's budget.

One of President Boris Yeltsin's contributions to the organisation of Russian science was to designate certain key institutions as "state science centres". These were given priority in resources, so that a queue soon developed of institutions seeking the coveted classification. There are 61 such "centres" in Russia, with another 100 or so seeking this status.

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