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‘Without Modern Science, a Country’s Prospects for Development Are Uncertain’

On November 10, the UNESCO Science Report: towards 2030 was presented in Paris. The report analyzes trends in R&D in different regions and countries. The chapter of the report devoted to Russian was prepared by HSE researchers Leonid Gokhberg and Tatiana Kuznetsova.

Public funding of R&D in Russia has increased significantly over the past ten years and, at purchasing power parity, has been comparable to corresponding expenditures in Germany and Japan (USD 32-35 billion in 2013), according to the report’s authors.

‘We have a lot of problems, some of which go back to Soviet times and some of which have appeared more recently. Some of them can be solved quickly, and some will take more time, but Russia undoubtedly has considerable potential in the area of science, and the state is advised to develop and support it’, says Tatiana Kuznetsova, Director of the Centre for S&T, Innovation and Information Policy at HSE Institute for Statistical Studies and Economics of Knowledge (ISSEK). ‘It is clear that increasing funding is difficult in the current economic and geopolitical situation, but we need to find some rational solutions. We cannot go backwards. The fact is that the failures of state funding that we saw in the 1990s have yet to be overcome - the state still spends less on science than it did in 1990-1991’.

Whereas the state has sought to overcome these failures in recent years by significantly increasing financial support, business has not shown greater interest in developing R&D. The low intensity of investment in science on the part of industry has been especially painful for the development of science as a whole. The economy is developing slowly, and businesses do not have enough resources or incentives to support science. Moreover, even funds that are available are not spent the same way they are in developed countries. Only a fifth of total innovation expenditures by Russian companies goes to financing actual research; purchases of new equipment and technology (often from countries that are direct economic competitors) accounts for most spending. In the EU, the situation is the exact opposite; for example, in Austria and France, 80% of companies’ ‘innovative’ expenditures go towards research and development.

Rapid economic growth, stimulated by high oil prices in 2000-2008 (and relatively high prices later on), had a paradoxically negative impact on the innovative activity of Russian business. The government sought to correct this situation, albeit at the level of state-owned companies, which were obligated to carry out special innovation development programmes. This requirement brought results: from 2010-2014, the share of innovative products as a part of total sales by state-owned companies increased from 15.4% to 27.1%. 

In general, gross domestic expenditures on R&D in Russia in 2013 amounted to 1.12% of GDP. This is almost two times less than the EU average (1.92% of GDP). In China, the figure is more than 2%, while in Germany and the US it is closer to 3%.

Rapid economic growth, stimulated by high oil prices in 2000-2008, had a paradoxically negative impact on the innovative activity of Russian business

The level at which articles by Russian academics are cited also leaves much to be desired; it’s twice lower than the average for G20 countries. Patenting new developments is also a problem. While absolute numbers of patents are growing, 70% of them are ‘on paper’ and are not connected to major technological innovations. A market for intellectual property rights in Russia has still not been formed. Gaps also remain in laws, which are supposed to protect and stimulate development of this market.

More than 727,000 people were employed in R&D in Russia in 2013, which is 1% of the country’s total workforce. In absolute terms, Russia is a world leader, trailing only the US, Japan and China. But per 10,000 workers (employed persons) Russia ranks only 21st (29th if we consider only researchers, i.e., without taking into account supporting science staff).

Almost one in four Russian adults has a higher education, and in the younger generation, this share is increasing. In 2013/2014, 5.6 million students were enrolled in Russian universities, with more than half of them in the fields of economics, management and the humanities; more than 20% in engineering; and less than 3% in the natural sciences and mathematics. One of the primary missions of research universities in Russia is training scientists; it is in universities that a significant number of those seeking Candidate’s degrees and PhDs are working on their dissertations. The share of those who do so in other academic institutions has fallen by a factor of three in the last 20 years.

‘In today's world there is no longer any debate about whether science is important for a country. If there is no modern science, a country’s prospects for the future are uncertain at best, and quite likely to strongly unfavourable’, said Tatiana Kuznetsova. ‘Today, this is understood even in countries that have never really had promising science and that for various reasons were even separated from global processes. They are looking for research areas that will help them get ahead, fill new niches, and push out competitors’. A typical example in this respect is Iran. The authors of report chapter devoted to this country show how Iranian science achieved breakthroughs on a number of parameters (such as publication activity), despite a quarter century of political and economic isolation.

The full version of the UNESCO report can be found on the organization’s website.

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