Combating Russian brain drain


Combating Russian brain drain

Эксперты МГИМО: Барабанов Олег Николаевич, д.полит.н., к.ист.н., профессор, профессор РАН

Recently, the Russian government has been paying increased attention to science and education, primarily as part of its declared modernization program, and also as part of the ongoing review of the Russia-2020 government strategy. This stems mainly from the realization that the foundation of the modern economy and world is the knowledge-based economy. Consequently, science and education issues are becoming crucial for Russia, especially if it wants to remain competitive on the global scale. In recent months, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has ensured significant progress in this direction by setting up the Strategic Initiatives Agency, a new structure that will help to promote professional training projects and the integration of business, science and education.

It should be noted that the intellectual and innovative potential of Russian researchers and engineers remains high and in-demand, but, unfortunately, they most often find opportunities to carry out their projects and ideas in other countries. The Nobel Prize in Physics 2010 was awarded to our compatriots Konstantin Novoselov and Andre Geim. These scientists do not represent the era of Soviet nuclear physics of the 1950s; they were awarded the Nobel Prize for current research. They both graduated from Russian universities, which laid the foundations for their research, but they both currently work abroad.

This is why one of Russia’s key goals is to create an efficient system that will stop brain drain and foster technologically advanced and socially attractive conditions for developing, patenting and implementing scientific and innovative projects inside the country.

The Skolkovo innovation center is already becoming an important part of the system. But it is also clear that a single center cannot prevent brain drain. Russia must create an entire network of innovative growth centers in many of its regions. Prime Minister Putin and the new management of the Strategic Initiatives Agency understand this, as they’ve made clear in their public statements.

Making the education and research programs of Russian universities more application-oriented would be a step in this direction. The experience of developed countries has shown that the bulk of cutting-edge research is done at universities, and promoting applied research at universities guarantees a country’s general technological progress. I am pleased to say that in recent years Russia has been following this global trend. In 2009–2010, several dozens of Russia’s universities received the status of National Research University, and the most important thing they got from this status, apart from additional financing, is the right to set their own education standards, which can be very flexible and oriented towards growth centers in today’s research and technology. These universities have already come together to form the Association of Leading Universities. It seems that one of its main goals is the coordination of methodological work in order to develop standards and education programs that are in demand, and to use them as the basis to create a modern alternative to national educational and methodological associations that are responsible for developing federal education standards, which often do not respond timely to the challenges of modern science. There are several dozens of these sites all over Russia — this is more than one pilot innovative center — and their development gives us hope that Russian education and science will no longer be a relic of the 20th century and will meet the global requirements of the 21st century.

The key here is to develop Master’s programs. Baccalaureate education — although there have been discussions about application-oriented Bachelor’s programs lately — is, after all, designed to give students a foundation, and then Master’s programs are there to provide needed professional skills. Master’s programs should become the bridge between education and practical activities to introduce innovations in production, business and society, which in today’s Russia is, unfortunately, very underdeveloped. In reality, the Master’s programs of our universities either repeat Bachelor’s programs (even if at a higher level of theoretical generalization) or are disconnected from the real research process, and as such businesses are not interested in them. As a result, graduates with a Master’s degree are often as poorly prepared for practical work as those with a Bachelor’s degree. Improving this situation, it seems, should be one of the systemic goals of both the Association of Leading Universities and individual universities.

However, education programs alone cannot solve the problem of brain drain. On the contrary, there is a risk that well-educated professionals will simply find a job abroad more quickly and easily. This is where Ph. D. programs can play an important role. In the past decade, Russia has been witnessing a very dangerous trend: with the growing popularity of higher education in general, the demand for Ph. D. programs is declining; and competition for these programs is falling off even at many of the country’s leading universities. To a significant degree, this is due to the fact that Ph. D. programs in Russia are not attached to big research projects and innovative production. As a result, many talented graduates are not willing to spend a significant amount of time (3–4 years) at the age of 23–27 on a purely intellectual exercise, which is, unfortunately, what a lot of our postgraduate research is. So student opt to either pursue a Ph. D. abroad, where postgraduate programs are tied to large-scale research projects of university laboratories and centers, or to start working for production companies. In the former case, we get a classic example of brain drain due to the lack of demand for young professionals in Russia, and in the latter, we are seeing the huge gap between so-called corporate research and innovation and formal academic recognition in the form of a Ph. D.

The solution to this problem will undoubtedly have to involve setting up powerful and globally competitive research centers at Russia’s leading universities and really involving postgraduates in their programs, as well as creating institutional ties between universities and corporations, which will allow applied corporate research to be formalized as Ph. D. theses. This can be achieved by cooperation between universities and interested companies, involving specialized Ph. D. programs and reserved positions. Organizations like the Association of Leading Universities, associations of industrialists and entrepreneurs and the newly founded Strategic Initiatives Agency can play a very important role here by creating the necessary interface to promote cooperation.

It should also be noted that Russian Ph. D. programs are currently not sufficiently compatible with Ph. D. programs in the West and do not meet similar and mutually accepted standards. A Russian Ph. D. is not equivalent to this degree in the West. A Ph. D. degree, unlike a Master’s degree, is not always accepted in the West, and if it is, it is not always accepted automatically. As a result, many talented young scientists prefer, upon graduation, to get a Ph. D. degree in the West and not to return to the Russian research and education system. So a pressing task is to modernize Ph. D. programs, bringing them in line with international practices and Western standards. This can be accomplished with dual Ph. D. programs, which are, unfortunately, very rare in Russia, unlike dual Master’s programs. By dual programs I mean unifying programs at a Russian and Western university so that the Russian graduate earns a foreign diploma that is recognized in the West.

Another important issue here is oversight and state regulation of the Ph. D. programs. Currently, the Supreme Attestation Commission oversees Ph. D. programs in Russia. This body has no counterpart in Western countries, where Ph. D. programs are created and regulated independently by the universities. This presents a real difficulty in developing joint international Ph. D. programs, because our universities have significantly less autonomy than in the West.

Creating opportunities for Russian researchers to publish their results in English would also encourage them to continue working in Russia. To achieve this goal, we must improve language training at all universities, including for degrees in natural sciences and technology (for which training is usually poor), to expand publishing in English, to found Russian English-language research magazines and to modify the country’s research and publishing culture in general. Modern research and modern education have long been English-based, at least in cutting-edge fields. Russia, as well as some other countries, may have mixed feelings about this, but, good or bad, this is the reality of the 21st century. Encouraging the publication of research in Russian will not produce the desired result; on the contrary, this practice has only ensured that for decades foreign researchers have been almost completely in the dark about what their Russian colleagues are working on. Research published in Russian is cited only by a very narrow circle of foreign researchers; it is simply not read abroad. This causes Russian research to become disconnected from the international research community and to follow a marginal, secluded path. As a result, Russian research loses global competitiveness, which further encourages brain drain.

Finally, a huge country like Russia should pay special attention to regional level. It should set up research, innovative and production clusters at the regional level and use them as the foundation for its strategy of international cooperation. Creating research centers in Moscow alone (or in Skolkovo, which is a few kilometers from Moscow) will not turn the tide of brain drain. Moreover, in the 2000s, we saw the real and no less serious problem of internal brain drain in Russia, caused by the hypercentralization of research and production in Moscow and the growing gap between the capital and other regions of the country. When everyone who is able to is moving to Moscow, this poses a real threat to the future of Russian research and innovation. This is a problem not only for professional researchers, but also for the population in general: the latest census in 2010 showed that the population of many Russian regions had declined significantly, while Moscow’s population was growing rapidly. This can be solved only by shifting the focus to creating regional research clusters.

For example, the obvious partners for many universities and corporations in Siberia and the Far East are Asia-Pacific countries, first of all China, then South Korea and Japan and, to a smaller degree, the west coast of the United States. Many Russian research centers in the region are already pursuing individual projects together with these countries, but there is no efficient federal strategy to develop this cooperation. As a result, Russia is involved in programs of innovation and business integration in Asia-Pacific only to a very small degree. As I’ve written before, Russia actually lacks a real agenda for its presidency of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation in 2012. The reason is that it has almost nothing to offer its partners. Russia must focus on enlisting international cooperation in the development of Siberian and Far Eastern research clusters as a way to improve the situation. International research cooperation is going much better in another frontier region of Russia, the Northwest, primarily thanks to EU programs, but it is still far from perfect and also requires close attention.

Combating brain drain, which has become a real threat to Russia’s global competitiveness, requires serious and consistent efforts in many areas. Let’s hope that the Russian government’s latest decisions, including the creation of the Strategic Initiatives Agency, will help the effort.

Точка зрения авторов, комментарии которых публикуются в рубрике
«Говорят эксперты МГИМО», может не совпадать с мнением редакции портала.

Источник: Valdai International Discussion Club
Распечатать страницу