The Humboldt Foundation in Russia
On February 26-28, 2014, the HSE will host a conference on ‘The Role of the Humboldt Foundation in Consolidating and Developing Russian Science during the Transition’. Former Russian grant holders of the Humboldt Foundation and current research award winners are expected to be there. The Interdisciplinary conference is timed to coincide with the Foundation's 60th anniversary and the recent Germany-Russia Year. The event is to celebrate successful cooperation between Russian and German scientists. Andrei Yakovlev, Director of the Institute for Industrial and Market Studies and the International Center for the Study of Institutions and Development, Professor of the Faculty of Public Administration, agreed to give an interview to the HSE News Service about the influence of the Humboldt Foundation on his own life and on Russian scientific life in general.
― How would you estimate the significance of the Humboldt Foundation for Russian scientists today?
― The Humboldt Foundation played a very important role in sustaining the Russian scientific elite in 1990s. During those difficult years it was the Humboldt grants that made it possible for many chemists, physics, mathematicians, biologists, particularly those engaged in natural sciences, to carry on their scientific activity. It’s true, some of them remained abroad, but according to the survey, organized in 2004-2005, two thirds of them returned to Russia, and nowadays they represent the Russian scientific elite. Today the increased government funding of Russian science has reduced the significance of the Humboldt Foundation compared to how it was in the 1990s. Nevertheless, the Foundation remains a very important channel for international academic mobility. It is a good opportunity for recent Candidates of Sciences to plug in to the international scientific network. While in the past the Foundation was literally a lifeline for scientists and a source of financial support for research; nowadays it offers great opportunities for mobility and connecting with other scientists outside Russia, making new professional contacts, and launching projects.
― What was your own experience of taking part in the Foundation programs?
― I took part in a specific program of the Federal Chancellor of Germany which gave grants for young Russian leaders. The program was launched for the USA in 1991, and then for Russia in 2001. I was in the first group of grant holders who went to Germany in 2002-2003. It was a rewarding year for me, as I learnt a lot of new things, read a lot of books, met new people. For me it was kind of a well-paid creative vacation, which proved to be extremely productive for my further research activity.
― Can you name some examples of successful cooperation among scientists within the Foundation?
― The Foundation specializes in supporting individual projects and gives grants to individual researchers, who come to Germany to work on their projects. Besides that, the Foundation gives awards to outstanding researchers. Winners have the opportunity to not only come to Germany for research work, but also finance their research teams, buy equipment, establish laboratories and so on. A lot of Humboldt award winners have gone on to become Nobel laureates. It’s hard to name one particular successful project, as there are hundreds of them. And in my opinion, we should give the Foundation credit for maintaining network cooperation among the foreign and German scientists after the projects are finished. One of the great things about the Foundation is the idea of the so called ‘Humboldt family’, which supports lifelong contact with all its members. Former grant holders – ‘members’ of this family - can get additional grants to go to conferences, or work in the archives, and to be visited by their German research partners…
― What is the future of cooperation between Russian and German researchers within the Foundation?
― What’s important is for the Russian Ministry of Science and Education and other high profile Russian foundations to appreciate the value of this cooperation. In the 1990s when Russia was broke the situation was different, it wasn’t an equal partnership. Now we have opportunities to build this partnership, but Germany has a well-organized infrastructure aimed at a range of different participants. Formally, we also have such structures, but compared to Germany they play a minor role. I believe that the German experience of cooperation with Japanese and American researchers, and their programs are based on working with similar structures in those countries. It’s not a program of cooperation among particular researchers, but rather foundations organizing joint tenders, and maintaining mobility. Russia doesn’t have enough of these structures to offer cooperation on equal terms and stop the feeling of a brain-drain. There is some movement in the right direction but it’s much slower than I would like. The Germans are taking the initiative but Russia is dragging behind.
Ekaterina Solovova, specially for the HSE News Service
On May 3rd and 4th 2011, the annual meeting of the Association of Russian Holders of Scholarships from the Chancellor of Germany and an Alexander von Humboldt Foundation seminar. It included a presentation of projects by 2012 scholarship holders.