05 April 2022

Science packs suitcases

How to prevent the outflow of scientists?

Nadezhda Hague, Uralinformburo

Russian science has come under sanctions pressure. Because of this, discussions began in the community: leave the country or work in new realities. And if the government of the country has already clung to IT specialists thoroughly, providing a preferential mortgage and a deferral from the army, then what has been done for scientists?

Time for new meanings

Experts say that the research and development sector is now experiencing such stress, which it has not faced since the 90s of the last century.

"Our situation is completely unclear – how temporary are the difficulties, is the situation stabilizing? And if so, when and in what condition? We in the trade union traditionally focus on institutions that carry out basic scientific research, since this sector is highly dependent on federal budget expenditures. We have concerns about the fulfillment of state tasks and large-scale orientation to the so-called breakthrough projects. That is, the bet is on the industries where we are already leaders, without affecting other areas. For example, covid has shown that we need to pay attention to medicine – the development of vaccines and new drugs," Uralinformburo said Chairman of the Trade Union of Workers of the Russian Academy of Sciences Mikhail Mitrofanov.


The Government of the Russian Federation has frozen the requirements for the availability of publications indexed in the international systems Web of Science and Scopus until the end of 2022. And there is no consensus in the scientific community as to how effective this approach will be. On the one hand, such a suspension makes it possible to seriously save money, on the other – a number of developments will be outside the global ratings.

At the same time, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Chernyshenko instructed the Ministry of Education and Science to promptly implement a national system for evaluating scientific research. But it may take years to create its base, the agency's interlocutors note.

The Coordinating Council for Youth Affairs in the Scientific and Educational Spheres of the Council under the President of the Russian Federation conducted a survey on what steps should be taken today to develop research. Judging by the results, scientists are concerned about whether the funds provided for 2022 will be brought to the winners of the competitions of the Ministry of Education and Science and the Russian Science Foundation. Other respondents believe that the procedure for purchasing consumables should be simplified as much as possible, first of all, through the change of FZ–44.

"In my opinion, it is necessary to allocate subsidies for updating the instrument base. Taking into account the international situation, it is necessary to develop the Russian production of scientific equipment, at the moment it is not very developed. Why is support required in terms of procurement of consumables, as well as simplification of procurement procedures for scientific institutions? The fact is that tenders can last for months, and consumables are also consumables that are needed here and now," emphasizes Yuri Salamatov, a researcher at the Institute of Metal Physics of the Ural Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences. – Of course, researchers need to increase their salaries, which will increase the attractiveness of working in the scientific environment. It is necessary to think about providing additional payments and benefits for young scientists and graduate students. It is absolutely necessary to continue and develop the programs of service housing and housing certificates – they are in great demand."

Sanctions measures have led to the fact that a number of projects started with foreign colleagues may be seriously affected and will not be implemented on time. And grant holders are faced with the fact that the budget funds provided are highly likely not enough for research.

The correspondent of Uralinformburo asked the Russian Science Foundation for a comment, where they answered sparingly: "The issues that you have outlined are now being discussed by the Foundation, as soon as concrete decisions are made, we will definitely bring them to the public."

Kamo is coming?

Brain drain is dangerous – discoveries and inventions that could have been made in Russia will suddenly become the property of another country. This was the case in previous decades, when Russian scientists aspired to Europe and the USA, but the trend began to change.

"I left to work in the USA as a professor in 2002, and now I can't imagine that a person from Russia or from another non-Western country will get a professorial position. The fact is that the sources of funding have seriously dried up here. In the USA, it is not just the talent that is important to the university, who knows how to lecture, a large number of people can cope with this, and a person's ability to earn money is his high potential for receiving grants. Our "climate" is so arranged that it is much easier to get grants if you have an ecosystem, connections, collaborations with other scientists, because you need high–quality expertise," said Ancha Baranova, professor at the School of Systems Biology at George Mason University.


In the USA, it is possible to integrate into the scientific environment only by adapting to the most stringent market requirements. The reality is that local universities practically do not open positions for scientists without experience.

"For some reason, Russians think that our scientists earn a lot, but this is not the case. First of all, this applies to graduates of postgraduate studies. If they come here and do research exclusively at the academy, they will receive no more than an employee pouring coffee. They can afford more with the same money in Moscow," Baranova shares the details. – That is, work "in pure science" is possible when there is housing and a marriage with a US citizen is registered. There is another way – a scientist gets an education in the USA and subsequently goes into commerce, for example, into pharmaceuticals. At the same time, there are such cases: some may get into the laboratory of a respected professor, work there for a year or two, and return to Russia. In this case, a specialist at home will be in great demand."

According to experts, in the current situation, there is a high probability of Russians leaving for eastern countries, including China. The Celestial Empire joined the competitive race, providing the best minds with a decent level of remuneration and a developed material and technical base.

"A researcher in Shanghai, in terms of our money, earns at least 150 thousand rubles. Professors have an income of 5 million rubles a year, and heads of institutes have 10 million rubles. There are also social bonuses in China, including a one-time payment for the purchase of housing under conditions. It does not need to be returned, provided that the person has worked for 10 years. This was the case in my case," said Philip Khaytovich, head of the Omix Technologies laboratory at the Skoltech Center for Systems Biomedicine and Biotechnology. – What else do the Chinese take? The fact that there is a developed system of grants, a clear mechanism has been created that allows you to be sure of subsequent financing."


For 26 years of work, Haitovich has developed a "formula" for the operational supply of laboratories in different countries. "You can say that in the USA I worked on the job. As soon as reagents are needed, you go to the warehouse for them, take them, pay for them. You wait a week for them in Germany. In China – 1-2 months, in Russia – something comes in 1-2 months, and something never comes."

This January, the Government of the Russian Federation approved a program of fundamental scientific research until 2030. It is focused on the development of such areas as computer science, nanotechnology, clinical and preventive medicine. The volume of budget injections is expected to reach 2.1 trillion rubles. The RAS trade union is wary of the next statements about funding.

"We have concerns that the constantly postponed "for later" increase in funds, promises and plans, will not be implemented," Mikhail Mitrofanov notes.

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