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Illusion Mist of Skolkovo

Illusion Mist of Skolkovo

11.11.2010 — Analysis

The Russian government has decided to carry out revolutionary reforms in science. To put the decision into life, billions of rubles have been earmarked for grants to scientists. The authorities expect that world gurus of science come to work in Russia. In the meantime, experts doubt that imported brains will be sufficient to instigate a technological breakthrough in the country. As the "RusBusinessNews" columnist found it out, no one in Russia can take up ideas of masterminds, for the established system is aimed at trite "sawing" of budget funds. That is why, brain drain and capital flight will continue in Russia. 

The Russian Ministry of Education has announced the winners of the scientist contest for the grant in the amount of 150 million rubles. Among forty winners there are Russian and foreign researchers: Nobel laureate Ferid Murad, Fields medal winner Stanislav Smirnov, Dirac medal awardee Vladimir Zakharov and others. The scientists will do their research studies in 14 Russian universities and institutes, which they represented in the contest. The authorities are planning to name another 40 winners of the contest till the end of November, allocating in total 12 billion rubles to science.

Scientists welcomed the increase in science financing. Vladimir Shur, Director of the Modern Nanotechnologies Center, thinks that grants are important because they help Russian professors to meet with their foreign colleagues, thus, extending horizons of scientific knowledge. Researchers are also happy to have the possibility of building present-day laboratories and even production lines. When inviting research teams to Skolkovo, the Russian authorities say the words never heard before: "Just tell us and we will buy any equipment you need ".

The money torrent, however, has not swept away skeptical doubts of scientists who believe that scientific breakthroughs can be achieved not only through financing. Vladimir Bochko, Director of the Innovation and Investment Development Center at the Institute of Economics of the Ural Division of the Russian Academy of Sciences, thinks that in the global environment any country that knows how to use the algorithm of achieving objectives is capable of making a technological breakthrough. Innovative growth takes place in the communities that have the critical mass of science and technology targeted people. In the meantime, today's Russia is fostering sneering attitude to low-paid research scientists. Consequently, there is no community of people who would be ready to take up and develop ideas of Nobel Prize laureates. Therefore, according to V. Bochko, there is no sense in inviting prominent scientists from abroad: eventually, it will end up with ordinary guzzling of budget funds.

Andrei Korzhubayev, head of the department of the Institute of Economy and Organization of Industrial Production at the Siberian Division of the Russian Academy of Sciences, is also sure that the funds will be spent inefficiently: world-known scientists cannot afford to stay in Russia during four months a year; those who are able to do that, obviously, slipped off the crest of world scientific ideas long ago. The invitation of Nobel laureates Andrey Geim and Konstantin Novoselov to Skolkovo has shown that Russia cannot count even on the Russians who left the country: only losers who failed to get adapted to new society are willing to come back.

A.Korzhubayev suggests that the officials having decided to engage prominent scientists, most, likely, are trying to transplant foreign experience in the Russian soil. However, the way they have chosen is too formal, giving no consideration for psychology and motivation of people's behavior. Professionals go to the USA because there they can find excellent infrastructure and scientific environment based on the melting-pot principles. China attracts scientists by giving them a readily available opportunity to try their developments in large-scale production. Invitations come from Chinese specialists who worked under directorship of famous professors in Western laboratories. Having learned, figuratively speaking, "counting and writing", they came back to the Celestial and received a secured social package (accommodation and high salary) as well as authorities and financial resources. This is a principal difference between China and Russia: if scientists leave Beijing in order to gain experience, the country of "permafrost" is left forever, as there is no opportunity for self-actualization. 

In Russia there exists an abyss between science and the world of officials. As recently it was stated by about two thousand scientists in their open letter to President Dmitry Medvedev, there is a total chaos in education and science; officials stopped even pretending that money is allotted for feasible programs. Consequently, programs for higher school development are pulled out of a hat: the Lomonosov Moscow State University, for example, announced that in 2020 it will host hundreds of international prize laureates, including Nobel and Fields awardees, who will be working in the university. Experts think that it may happen only if there is a stream of international laureates flowing into Moscow. Probably, officials are making an attempt to instigate this very stream, but the idea is a failure from its inception, as prominent scientists are used to working rather than to shielding disbursement of budget funds with their names.

As recently Vladimir Mau, Rector of the Academy of National Economy has stated, today capital from Russia is exported by midsized business rather than by oligarchs. It means that they do not believe in the country's prospects and private ownership protection.

Strange as it may sound, government authorities do not even try to make them change their mind, even having announced the construction of the Russian Silicon Valley in Skolkovo. In the opinion of Georgi Baumstein, Director of the Rosnanosvet Trading Company, business is interested in the project, but it is concerned about absence of clarity in commercial issues. It is obvious that the construction of the free economic zone that will include production facilities as well as schools-kindergartens-stores will require a lot of money; however, the government keeps silent about the reimbursement. Scientists who are offered money for deployment of technologies do not believe in free lunch, asking quite a reasonable question: "Shall we be asked for a share in our business or will there be a certain general sales representative who will sell our innovative products?"

This question should be clarified before scientists are invited to take part in the Skolkovo Project. However, there is no information about the relevant law, though the government started banging a PR drum long ago. On the other hand, it is not enough to pass the law: is it going to be observed? Russia is notoriously famous for its disrespect to intellectual rights. The problem has remained unsolved since 1991; that is why, all concerned people understood long ago that the Russian elite is interested in retaining archaic social relations based on the feudalistic perception of private property. The question about the realistic possibility of attracting foreign investment and brains to Russia in this situation becomes redundant.

Vladimir Terletsky

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