Russian scientists still among the best, says Businessweek

August 3, 2004

Brussels, 02 Aug 2004

The Russian scientific education system is going through a revival, producing over 200,000 science graduates a year, according to a report by the magazine Businessweek.

The report, however, warns that with Russian academics getting older and with young graduates being recruited by the private sector or foreign universities, 'Russian science may be living on borrowed time.'

'It's one of Russia's surprising survival stories -- the resurgence of the country's once-superb scientific education system,' states the report. 'State funding for scientific research and education plummeted with the collapse of the Soviet Union [...]. But Russia's universities and scientific institutes are slowly adapting to the harsh realities of a market economy, by tapping private funding and research contracts and forming partnerships with international heavyweights such as Intel, IBM, and Cisco Systems. Meanwhile, enrolment in science courses is rising once again,' adds the report.

Thanks to Russia's economic revival, which started at the end of the 1990s, the country's government has increased its spending in the science field by 90 per cent since 1998. This, however, is only a fraction of what it used to be before the fall of communism. Indeed, Russia now only allocates 1.24 per cent of its gross domestic product to research and development (R&D). This is half what France and Germany spend in the field.

A further boost in state funding is needed to encourage graduates to become teachers, states the report, as the ranks of academia are diminishing and greying. 'Russian basic science is still at a very high level, but when the current generation of teachers retires, the experience may be lost,' Irina Dezhina from the Institute for the Economy in Transition, told Businesweek.

A study conducted by Moscow State University for the Russian government showed that almost two-thirds of Russia's scientists are over 40. The resulting report therefore recommended steps such as directing funding to the areas of research with the most promise and potential or allowing innovative scientists to receive a greater financial reward from their involvement in state-funded projects.

As in some other countries, Russian scientists often receive very low salaries. A Russian assistant professor can only expect to earn 83 euro a month, compared to 3,000 euro in Japan, for example. As a result, many recent graduates are either working or studying abroad, or working in banking or business.

Despite these drawbacks, 'Russians young and old continue to wow the world with their scientific and mathematical talent,' states Businessweek. 'Students [are] so well trained in computer-science, physics, mathematics and engineering, that growing numbers are being snapped up by some of the world's biggest tech companies,' adds the report.

Furthermore, the pool of Russian science graduates is growing. In 2004, 225,831 students graduated as computer scientists, engineers, mathematicians and physicists, a rise of 11 per cent compared to 2003. 'Despite the recent vogue for management of marketing, Russian youth is rediscovering its traditional interest in old-fashioned science,' reports Businessweek. The highest demand for places at university is for science or mathematics courses. //CPA To read the full report, please visit the following web address: tent/04_32/b3895103_mz018.htm

CORDIS RTD-NEWS / © European Communities

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