Russia

Russia and the European Union: reinforcing collaboration in R&D

Russia and the EU do not have the same approach with regard to research but more intense cooperation should come about thanks to the Seventh Framework Programme. RTD Info interviews Alla Akulshina, Deputy Director of the Regional Centre for Information on Cooperation with the EU in R&D at Voronezh University.

Alla Akulshina Alla Akulshina
Mathematics, an area in which the Russians are particularly brilliant. In 2006, the Fields Medal (considered the ‘Nobel prize for maths’) was awarded to Andrei Okounkov (Berkeley University). The hot favourite, Gregori Perelman, refused it and preferred to watch the ceremony on television in Saint Petersburg. Mathematics, an area in which the Russians are particularly brilliant. In 2006, the Fields Medal (considered the ‘Nobel prize for maths’) was awarded to Andrei Okounkov (Berkeley University). The hot favourite, Gregori Perelman, refused it and preferred to watch the ceremony on television in Saint Petersburg.
Space – one of Russia’s strong points, and the one with the most media coverage. Here the Soyuz launcher is ready for takeoff. Space – one of Russia’s strong points, and the one with the most media coverage. Here the Soyuz launcher is ready for takeoff.
© ESA

What are the major differences between the Russian and the European Union’s approaches to research & development (R&D)?

Traditionally, Russia’s strong point is basic research. Russian education has always given priority to mathematics and the sciences and our best colleges of higher education, therefore, have a tendency to concentrate on mathematics, physics and nuclear and space research. On the other hand, applied research is an area in which we only invest a small proportion of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP). However, this is a deplorable state of affairs, given that applied research is better able to meet immediate social and economic needs.

In the EU, the situation is reversed, as it is traditionally applied research which takes priority. In contrast to the situation in Russia, the EU programmes encourage mobility, are very flexible and maintain close links with industry. This is reflected in the Seventh Framework Programme. The ‘Ideas’ programme and certain thematic priorities are certainly interested in basic research, but as a general rule, it is applied research which tends to be favoured.

Another important difference concerns financing. Russia invests less in R&D than the EU Member States (1.17% of the GDP in 2004) and it is the government which continues to finance the greatest part of R&D expenditure in Russia (almost 60%); only one fifth (21%) comes from industry. That is much less than in EU countries where companies are the main source of the increase in R&D expenditure. As for foreign financing, this amounts to 7.5%, including the framework programmes. There are, however, also points of convergence. The Russian Federation launched its new research programme this year. Intended to last 6 years (2007-2012) and with a budget of approximately €5.6 billion, the Russian federal scientific programme prioritises the same subjects as the Seventh Framework Programme: energy, the environment, biotechnologies, information and communication technologies, nanotechnologies and transport.

What is your opinion of the Seventh Framework Programme?

I think the new framework programme is the most ambitious scientific programme in the world and the most important instrument for economic growth in Europe. However, in my opinion, it is still a bit too bureaucratic. There is a need to plan a more simplified administrative procedure, especially for the Marie Curie programmes.

Is it this bureaucratic aspect which stops Russian researchers from participating in framework programmes?

In Russia, research programmes are much less bureaucratic but I do not think that is the only thing holding our researchers back.

As a general rule, it is quite difficult for us to participate in European framework programmes. Of about 50 000 participants in the Sixth Framework Programme, there were only 300 Russian researchers. This is partly due to our lack of experience but it is also due to the fact that it is quite difficult to obtain information on framework programmes. In Russia, there are only 11 centres which provide information on European programmes. Furthermore, the very structure of the programme makes it difficult for us to gain access. This is understandable, as since it is a European programme, it naturally gives preference to European researchers. Moreover, international cooperation only constitutes a minute part of the programme.

Do you think that the increased international dimension of the Seventh Framework Programme will allow a greater number of Russian researchers to participate?

Yes, I hope so, thanks to the ‘Capacities’ programme and to the SICA (Specific International Collaboration Actions) which facilitate the participation of researchers from third countries. However, I think a more fruitful collaboration could develop if we actively participate in ‘Cooperation’ programmes and in any thematic priorities where our approaches are complementary.

Currently, Russia and the EU have a lot in common both in terms of the research themes tackled and in the priorities given to them. I am particularly thinking of ecology, energy and the biotechnologies. If we could combine Russian expertise in basic research and European knowledge of applied sciences, the result would be all the more successful. This cooperation would enable progress to be made both in European and Russian science. Unfortunately, to date, the level of Russian participation in framework programmes does not reflect our scientific capability.

The brain drain is a concern for the EU. Is this also the case for Russia and do you think that the EU mobility programmes may have an influence?

The brain drain is one of the major problems in research in Russia. It is estimated that 5 000 to 8 000 researchers have left Russia over the last 8 years. This is the consequence of a policy that did not value science. Nowadays, the job of a researcher is no longer prestigious and salaries have decreased significantly. It is, therefore, not surprising that scientists are leaving Russia to find better working conditions elsewhere.

The Marie Curie actions facilitate the participation of researchers in framework programmes, but to address the brain drain, there has to be a programme at a central level, at the level of the state. A good example to follow would be that of China. Following the example of the Chinese government’s policy, our government must create favourable conditions to encourage the return of expatriate scientists.


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