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Science and engineering have long been one of Russia's fortes. In the days of the Soviet Union, Russian science was the envy of the world. Soviet scientists and engineers were able to go toe-to-toe with their European and American counterparts. But during the 90s, state funding collapsed, and Russian science deteriorated.
But recently, the Russian government has been investing heavily in research and development. One of Moscow's main initiatives in this area has been to provide large grants to reinvigorate scientific and technical studies.
Vladimir Putin met with young scientists and grantees of the government's mega-grants, the cream of the crop of Russian science, the people who are today laying the foundation for the future breakthrough. Many of them, however, are achieving a breakthrough in their fields even today. These are the very brains that were once said to have been drained. Now, they're back!
Only Andrey Fursenko, the Presidential Aide for Science, is missing. The scientists asked him to join but he kept refusing until the president said jokingly that his behavior seemed suspicions.
“It puts us on guard.”
It's the finale of a two-hour conversation, before the start of which the scientists argued how much time the president would spend with them.
- 30 minutes.
- Not an hour, 30 minutes.
- I'm absolutely calm, my hands aren't even trembling.
- Just calm down.
- I'm calm.
- Calm down!
Two of the scientists are very young, and it's their first time visiting the president's residence.
- You bet! We're only 20.
- She's 20, and I'm 21.
- Of course, we'll never see this footage.
- Why? You will.
- Will we?
- You will.
In the end, the entire country saw Alexei Fyodorov. He raised the question of why presidential grants stop at the bachelor's degree level and aren't extended to the students of master's programs.
Alexei Fyodorov, Chuvashia University:
- I've got this proposal. I believe it would be the right thing to do."
- And I believe it would be the right thing to do. We share this opinion. We think that Mr. Fursenko is too thrifty. He didn't mention it to me that the grants are only for bachelor's program students. It's strange.
- I'd like to enroll in a master's program and continue my studies.
- Go ahead!
- I will.
- The president gave you his promise. If we don't do it on time, I'll find another source.
- I was presented with an opportunity, why not use it?
- How much is the grant?
- It's 20,000 rubles ($310) per month now. For the entire duration of studies.
There are grantees of mega-grants in this hall too. It's a sum of up to 150 million rubles. Eight years ago, upon Putin's resolution, they started to distribute them as an incentive for the best, world-renown scientist to come to Russia. Quite often, it's those very Russians who left the country in the 1990s which turned out to be a nightmare for science. Now, they're using grants to create advanced scientific laboratories in Russia.
Vladimir Putin: “It was very unfortunate that they left. But it's very fortunate that they got some knowledge there and now work here.”
They speak with a distinct accent but they're still Russian people. They care deeply about what they do. To make it more efficient, they propose to engage major companies more actively in cooperating with scientists.
Valery Fokin, South California University:
- We could make a business proposal that they wouldn't want to refuse.
- I see that you're taught bad things in California. We live in a democracy, we can't…
- An absolute democracy indeed! That why I said that we could make a proposal.
Andrey Vorotyntsev, Nizhniy Novgorod:
- Science and business mistrust each other. Ones think that they won't get paid, the others think that they’ll be cheated. Even though we take measures…
- I think it's the same. The representatives of our companies say, "Yes, your solution is good. But we'd like..." Sorry, I'm taking the roughest example. "...this cog to be on the right instead of the left." But here's what your colleagues would reply. "You know what? We developed it in a way that demands this cog to be just here. Manufacture it the way we made it. Adopt your product. We know better where the cog should be. And that's it, you see? They say... We'll go there and buy it where they'll make it the way we want it. It should be a mutual process.
- Are you ready to make cogs on the right side?
- We're ready to make cogs on any side.
It's the bright eyes of the people who are capable of moving mountains.
- What is your specialization in chemistry?
Ekaterina Skorb, ITMO University:
- I've created my own new specialization. Though I'm not alone. It's info-chemistry. It's about mechanisms of long-term memory.
- To remember your first kiss.
Twenty–twenty-five years ago, there was despair and offense in the eyes of Russian scientists and the workers of scientific organizations. The country's pride, they were kicked out onto the streets. Candidates and doctors of science worked at commodity markets in order to survive. There were constant rallies and protests, humiliated teachers... Witnessing their fate, the boys and girls left the country.
“Imagine a situation when neither husband nor wife get their wages for six or seven months.”
“Instead of being happy about getting money, they come out with tears in their eyes with this money. Because two-thirds will cover their debt.”
There were mass hunger strikes. Many people saw them as the only way to get paid their tiny wages. I'm begging.
“How will I feed my children?”
Of course, there are still many problems. But they're not even comparable to the ones we used to have. For example, the grantees ask for an opportunity to use their bank card to spend the money.
Vladimir Putin: “We'll find a solution. I don't yet know what the solution will be but we'll do it.”
- How long does it take now to pass all the checks?
Konstantin Krutovsky, Russian Academy of Science: "3–6 months."
More and more entries were being added to Andrey Fursenko's notebook; they were titled, "Give an opportunity," and "Settle the issue."
- Have a nice day!
- Thank you! Goodbye!
- He's awesome!
Just in a minute, they shared their impressions with their scientific teams.
Ekaterina Skorb: “The prime personae of the state are talking to us. It doesn't happen elsewhere.”
The scientists who have worked in other countries definitely have a right to compare.
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