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The Public Should Take Part in Setting Research Priorities, in Order to Benefit from its Results

Research and development priorities should be set with the interests of the state, business community and general public in mind, since it is the public who will, in the end, be the most important consumers of the results of scientific research. Support for fundamental science must not come at expense of the humanities, engineering and design – which all provide added value. A discussion on promising areas for development in Russian science opened the 5th International conference 'Foresight and science, technology and innovation policy' organised by the Institute for Statistical Studies and Economics of Knowledge at HSE.

What's the latest in Russian research?

First Vice Rector at HSE Leonid Gokhberg said that Russia's research environment had seen positive changes and quantitative achievements in the years to 2015. There has been significant growth in the state funds directed toward research: in 2014, in RUB purchasing power parity, Russia spent more than Britain in terms of the total volume of state spending on science and research.  Clear growth in investment was also seen from business. The annual growth of private companies' investment in research and development carried out at Russian academic establishments and universities amounted to 20-30 billion roubles, and the total volume of private sector spending on technological innovations exceeded 700 billion roubles.

In recent years we have also seen a rise in absolute terms in key employment indicators in Russia's research sector, with the increase coming from a rise in the number of researchers – not support or administrative staff.

The proportion of young researchers among all those employed in research in Russia is also growing. But, as Deputy Director of the Russian Education Ministry's Department for Science and Technology Sergei Matveev noted, progress in ensuring a higher proportion of younger researchers is patchy. Technical and applied sciences have seen particular successes on this, with the proportion of younger staff in those areas currently exceeding 60%. Fundamental natural sciences, particular physics, are however witnessing a reverse trend – the proportion of older researchers is increasing, in some places exceeding 70%.

Russian scientists take part in our surveys of the expert community, and often indicate that they are not only not involved in researhc in some areas, they are not even keeping up with research underway elsewhere and sometimes don't even understand what is being done

Leonid Gokhberg
First Vice Rector

Changes in recent years have taken place against a backdrop of a fairly positive macro-economic and budget environment. Today's environment is more challenging and resources are limited. It is vital to determine what the state's role should be, what business can do, and what the academic and research community can contribute. Questions relating to development priorities are particularly vital.

Vice President of the company ABB in Russia Mikhail Akim believes that there must me a move away from isolation and toward greater international integration in the setting of priorities for science and technology. 'In some areas integration is not currently possible, but in most areas, at least in science and technology, paths to integration remain open, these paths must be chosen,' he siad.

Where is Russian research on the threshold of a breakthrough?

The Institute for Statistical Research and Economic Knowledge at HSE is monitoring the various different 'research fronts' or areas where, globally, research is developing most rapidly. Data from the last two years indicates that Russia is present on about 3% of the 13-14 key research areas. In physics, biomedical research, earth and space sciences, this rises to 8-10%, whereas in other areas it is lower.

'Russian scientists take part in our surveys of the expert community, and often indicate that they are not only not involved in researhc in some areas, they are not even keeping up with research underway elsewhere and sometimes don't even understand what is being done,' Leonid Gokhberg said.

Vice President of Skoltech Alexey Ponomarev identified three main priorities: 'First, the priorities of today – those areas where we can get involved in what is happening today. Like promising production technology. Then there are tomorrow's priorities. This means the next generation of IT systems and what they are fundamentally based in – and mathematics. Here I mean the entire discussion about photonics, quantum calculations etc. Things have yet to work themselves out in this area so that we can find our niche. And then there's the day after tomorrow. That's neurotechnology. This sector has yet to develop a real structure, and we are able to take a role in it.'

Does Russia need Russian tech?

In setting priorities it is vital that we keep focused on the market demand we see from Russian companies, Director of the Department for Social Development and Innovation at the Russian Ministry of Economic Development Artyom Shadrin said. 'This does not only mean the raw materials sector and processing sectors but also high tech companies that operate on the Russian and international markets, and future markets,' he said. As an example, he highlighted the IT setor and Yandex's role.

How do you turn research into products?

The priorities for science and technology should not be confused, as a whole host of technologies are based on 'basic common sense, not on scientific discoveries,' general director of Russian Venture Company Igor Agamirzyan noted.

A product's competitiveness, he stressed, is not defined by the technology or scientific discoveries involved, but by a host of factors that include design and marketing. They help a product integrate into the global added value supply chain.

'So this entire issue needs to be looked at more broadly,' he stressed, 'or else we will miss out on the next great scientific and technological advance.'