From email@example.com Sun Mar 5 14:19:52 2000
Date: Sat, 4 Mar 2000 15:45:49 -0600 (CST)
From: IGC News Desk <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: EDUCATION-RUSSIA: The Science Brain Drain
MOSCOW, Mar 3 (IPS)—The former Soviet Union, once renowned for its scientific achievements and for producing scientific talents, is finding that science is rapidly becoming a lost art.
The country is boasting fewer young talents as students are opting for more lucrative professions like business or professions that will allow them to work abroad.
Becoming a physicist or mathematicians simply does not pay.
These days many of Russia's estimated 500,000 scientists face destitution. They have to work with obsolete equipment, and a once proud academic legacy is rapidly falling apart.
More than half of the nation's scientists reportedly live in Moscow or the city's adjacent areas and can barely afford the high cost of living.
Being a scientist was once regarded as a noble profession and was part of the country's elite. Furthermore an association with the Russian Academy of Science, known by its Russian acronym, RAN was the ultimate.
However RAN is unable to pay its scientists and is not so prestigious anymore. Within the past decade RAN has reportedly seen more than 70,000 scientists leave for the lucrative private sector.
Ironically Peter the Great launched the RAN 275 years ago by recruiting academics from Europe. Now, according to official statistics, some 20,000 Russian scientists work abroad.
Many of these researchers apparently took with them decades of collective work that often had yet to be patented and, thus, became the potential for much needed earnings.
Russia's 2,000 state budget allocates hardly enough to ensure mere subsistence of state-employed scientists.
Not surprisingly, the researchers survive by relying on grants from the International Science Foundation of American billionaire George Soros, as well as smaller grants from the Russian Fund for Basic Research.
In the past, Russian science witnessed a period of self reliance. Furthermore, a system of encouraging young talents had been developed, notably in the form of so called ‘Scientific Olympiads'—contests for school kids in physics, mathematics and other subjects.
The winners could claim enrollment into the country's most prestigious universities.
During the 1960s unprecedented enthusiasm in search for talented youngsters was witnessed, mainly through Olympiads, says Sergei Krotov, a professor with Moscow University.
In contrast, early 1990s became the years of a horrible downturn, he adds.
Three decades ago Russian academics even launched a monthly magazine called ‘The Quantum’ which was specifically aimed at promising young talents in physics and mathematics.
In the 1970's the magazine had a circulation of 300,000 copies compared to the present 4,000 to 5,000 circulation.
School teachers also complain that some education standards are going down. “The so called ‘humanitarisation’ of secondary education, which occurred in early 1990's, dealt the Russian school system a heavy blow,” says Alexander Leonovich, a teacher of physics in Dubna, better known as the ‘town of physicists' which situated near Moscow.
“The ‘Humanitarisation’ drive involved introduction of new, but poorly researched subjects—like history—at the expense of physics and mathematics,” says Vladimir Tikhomirov, mathematician and professor with Moscow University.
He said a generation of remarkable scientists emerged as a result of the Olympiad contests. Now roughly one third of this generation is reported to have emigrated, while only half of the remaining scientists are still alive.
Tikhomirov says the generation changes could not be sustained without state support and the whole world of science was dying a slow but sure death.
However, skeptics argue that Russia's perceived ‘great science’ was not based on reality as the scientific achievements were used for Cold War era aims such as the making of atomic bombs and other weapons, while the population did not profit at all.
Scientists retort, however, that their achievements could be used for more practical goals.
“It is impossible to foresee global climate changes without good, even brilliant, mathematicians,” argues Georgy Golitsyn, RAN member and head of the Institute of Atmosphere Physics.
As recently as the 1970s, more than two thirds of Russian students pursued engineering, natural science and medicine, but enrollment fell, along with prestige, after the end of the Cold War.
Now it is difficult for scientific institutions to lure talented youngsters.
University students normally receive only two to three times the nation's minimum salary of 83,50 rubles (2,9 US Dollars), while most post-graduates must take extra work to supplement meager monthly stipends of about 200 rubles (6,9 US Dollars).
Experts say both the private and state sectors in Russia now invest less than 200 million US Dollars a year towards commercialising the hi-tech know-how, including military technologies. This, they say, is inadequate given the fact that the country has thousands of research centers and hi-tech enterprises.
“Few Russian business executives realise the importance of revitalising the country's scientific potential,” says Yuri Osipyan, a member of the RAN. “Even fewer businessmen are actually investing to achieve this goal,” he says.
Some government institutions have set up Technology Transfer (TT) outlets, with modest results, so far.
“For instance, the Russian Space Agency has set up its own Technology Transfer Center (TTC), to co-ordinate marketing for the Russian aerospace and other hi-tech companies worldwide but it still has a long way to go to catch up with overseas Technology Transfer firms,” Sergei Zhukov, general director of TTC told IPS.
He said TTC was struggling to stay afloat and was unable to fund research programmes.
Russia's Justice Ministry has set up the Federal Agency for Intellectual Property Protection, designed to safeguard know-how, developed at the state-owned TT centers, notably defense industry enterprises.
According to the Agency's head Yuri Gaidukov, technology transfer and commercialisation of intellectual property could bring Russia up to one billion US dollars a year.
However these possible huge revenues remain a pipe dream as Russian researchers continue to rely on grants to carry on with their work.