Russians count brains drained

March 31, 1995

Russia's counter-intelligence service is monitoring the extent of the academic brain drain just as the Academy of Sciences is pleading with government to recognise its financial crisis.

The lack of state funding and of orders from industry has continued to impoverish Russian science since the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991. Russia's Federal Counter-intelligence Service has now revealed that 40 per cent of the former USSR's top theoretical physicists and 12 per cent of experimental physicists are working abroad.

A poll just carried out has shown that only 15.4 per cent of scientists in Russia are committed to staying in the country. Forty per cent are thinking of leaving and 13 per cent are prepared to go abroad immediately. Sixty-seven per cent of potential emigrants are under 40 and 25 per cent under 30.

According to academicians Vladimir Zakharov and Vladimir Fortov at Russia's Academy of Sciences, 80 per cent of students at technical institutes in Russia do not intend to work in their field and have plans either to go abroad or to go into business.

The latest victim of Russia's economic crisis is the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences. Last year one third of the government funds allocated to it failed to arrive. Research programmes involving the development of new medicines were disrupted by this and the subsequent loss of research staff.

At a sitting of the government commission for emergency situations in December, academy president Valentin Pokrovsky warned that unless the crisis were solved Russia would have to depend on foreign imports of medicines.

The dumping of poor quality medicines in Russia by foreign countries has been an issue in the Russian media this past year.

The Serpukhov High Energy Physics Institute at Protvino, the former Soviet Union's leading nuclear research town, has lost about 30 top scientists. Its director, Anatoly Ageyev has warned the institute may well have to close if another 50 go. Attempts are being made to put as many of the scientists as possible on contracts that would earn them more than their usual 80,000 roubles a month (Pounds 13), but money is in short supply.

The situation has changed little since the Russian parliament addressed the government about the crisis in Russian science almost a year ago. This year state funding is expected to be half that of 1994 in real terms, taking into account inflation.

During debate about the 1995 budget at the end of last year, the big defence lobby in parliament laid claims to that part of the budget set aside for non-military scientific research.

Submitting its budget requirements, the defence committee in parliament had asked that the money allocated "to fund research and the promotion of scientific and technical progress" should go instead to defence.

The breakdown in state funding at a time of deindustrialisation has had a particularly negative effect on applied science.

The transition to a market economy has led to many industries going bankrupt in the face of real competition or the end to state support.

As a result, applied science has not been getting anything like the usual volume of orders from industry. Up to 95 per cent of funding for applied science comes from the state.

Industrial decline has also meant that universities, colleges and research centres are ill-equipped. In addition to the shortage of modern equipment, even the foreign science journals universities and colleges traditionally subscribed to are now paid for mainly by the American millionaire George Soros, who has launched a campaign to save Russian science.

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