Scientific institutions to be consolidated before their performance is measured

A series of essential government decisions on further reforms in the science sector were expected in the period of October to November 2014, primarily those concerning the system of former academic institutions currently being within the jurisdiction of the Federal Agency for Scientific Organizations (FASO).

A Science Coordinating Council under the FASO was expected to be established, a commission for performance measurement of research organizations to be elected, methods of performance measurement to be approved, procedures for the participation of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) in the expert work and the performance of other incumbent functions to be developed.

The development of approaches towards the performance measurement of research organizations and the restructuring of former academic institutions are of most concern today. It is very likely that the restructuring of institutions will precede the performance measurement of the same. The sequence of such measures is absurd to begin with.

The reforms are focused on the consolidation of organizations and shrinking the share of those involved mostly in the basic research. The concept of refocusing the existing organizations on the applied research is disputable. Given the current state of the human resources potential, it could be more efficient to establish new applied research institutions instead of retraining the staff inexperienced in the applied research.

It is noteworthy that the RAS management have swiftly "absorbed" the concept of consolidation which can be implemented prior to the performance measurement of institutions. Various RAS units and branches have started to propose specific options of establishing new entities on the basis of former academic institutions. The biggest feedback has received the proposal of academician I.A. Sokolov, chief academic secretary of the Presidium of RAS, who proposed to establish a Federal Research Center for Information and Communication Technologies on the basis of The Institute of Informatics Problems of the Russian Academy of Sciences (IPI RAN) headed by the same person. The proposal was made without prior consultations with the directors of the institutions proposed to be integrated into the new entity. In fact, the current developments can be described as efforts to save institutions by their directors who can take advantage of administrative leverage for this purpose.

These efforts have not been wasted: A.A. Fursenko, Assistant to the Russian President, has supported four pilot projects, including that of academician Sokolov, although the principles of their selection remain unknown. Furthermore, the priorities have appeared to differ from those suggested by the FASO, namely agricultural sciences, molecular genetics and cellular biology, industrial biotechnologies and informatics, and software. These projects are most likely to become the first pilot projects.

Such a spontaneous setting of priorities is indicative of the lack of government's concerted stance on what Russia should focus on in terms of its development. Lots of new priorities in R&D have emerged over the past year, which are only relatively compliant with the presidential priority areas of science, methods and technologies development.
In general, the nature of the decisions made leads to a conclusion that they are guided by the R&D spending cut scenario in the federal budget. From this follows "optimization" and pilot projects based on arbitral priorities (to ultimately retain the institutions that are wanted). It takes long for different-type teams to adapt to each other in consolidated institutions, and productivity can hardly be increased in the period of transition.

The academic community's response to what is going on can be assessed today as well. The active part of the community, members of non-government organizations and councils, are trying to spontaneously adjust announced managerial decisions and gradually approaching the concept of the strategy implemented early in the 90s, when the Russian science saw the largest in scale and rapid destruction. The concept is intended to make research units and laboratories more independent inside their institutions. It is easier to survive within stand-alone groups in times of large-scale destruction. The "passive" part of the academic community have selected the same concept of the 90s, seeking employment abroad. The first eight months of 2014 have seen the biggest outflow of human resources, basically researchers and entrepreneurs, vs. any full year over the past 15 years.

Irina Dezhina, Doctor of Economics, leading researcher, Social Services Department,