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Report Says Russia Losing Edge in Science

  • Peter Fedynsky

Funding for research and development cut since fall of Soviet Union; serious brain drain since 1991 exacerbates problem.

A recent report by Thomson Reuters, the parent company of Britain's Reuters news agency, indicates Russia is losing influence in science and science-based industries. Russia is also suffering a brain drain that is exacerbating the problem.

The report says Russian science has suffered from drastic budget cuts since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Funding for Russia's best research institutes amounts to no more than five percent of comparable institutions in the United States, according to a source cited by Thomson Reuters.

In December, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev criticized Rosneft, the state-run company that owns the world's largest oil and gas reserves, for spending only 15 one-thousandths of a percent of its revenues on research and development.

Mr. Medvedev says there is a need to change the ideology and psychology of doing business in modern conditions. He admonishes Russians to work on the issue and stop sleeping.

Russia has also suffered a serious brain drain since 1991, the report says. An estimated 80,000 scientists have left the country in search of better pay, funding and facilities.

The director of Moscow's Problems of Globalization Institute, economist Mikhail Delyagin, says bad working conditions, bureaucracy, and a lack of modernization are other factors driving away talent.

Delyagin says scientists in their institutes feel like serfs who work for completely ignorant people who do not know what they are talking about. In terms of their development, he adds, managers have remained in the 20th and even the 19th century.

The average age for a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, according to the report, is over 50. Sixty is the average in defense industries, says military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer.

Felgenhauer says young people have emphasized salaries to support their families, because in many cases the military industrial complex has little money.

Universities that fail to transfer knowledge to the next generation are another problem Felgenhauer says. He blames corrupt professors who he claims are accepting bribes in exchange for good grades.

President Medvedev says Russia should attract foreign experts to revive science in the country. Mikhail Delyagin says such experts could threaten powerful Russian oil interests.

Why do Russians need bio-tech experts, asks Delyagin? Why do we need energy efficiency experts? The economist says introducing them means hitting the energy monopolist over the head, because energy efficiency means fewer energy profits.

In a recent op-ed column, the imprisoned Kremlin critic and former head of the Yukos Oil Company Mikhail Khodorkovsky said Russia's demand for skills in fundamental and applied sciences is declining in light of the appetite for raw materials and corruption.