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Russia announces results of a new EUR 130 million “megagrant” call

On 21 September 2011, the Russian Ministry of Education and Science announced the results of the second round of “megagrant” calls. As with the first call published last year, this competition has been launched by the Russian government in order to (re-)attract top foreign and Russian scientists to the country’s universities by funding their large-scale research projects in a wide range of thematic areas (see ACA Newsletter – Education Europe, November 2010).

Overall, 39 applications (out of 517 proposals jointly submitted with 176 Russian higher education institutions) were approved for funding by the Call Committee following a peer review by expert panels. The panels were formed with the help of the Association of American Universities, the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the United States and the International Bureau of the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). Each winner will receive up to RUB 150 million (EUR 3.5 million) for the implementation of his or her two-year project at a Russian host organisation. Although 19 winners hold Russian citizenship, 13 of these have some form of dual citizenship, and only one scientist permanently resides in Russia. Amongst the foreign winners, 10 are citizens of the United States, followed by 6 from France and 4 from Germany. Citizens from the Netherlands, the UK, Austria, Belgium, Italy, Japan and various other countries will also receive funding. Two Nobel Prize Laureates – Japanese biologist Osamu Shimonmura and an American astrophysicist, George Fitzgerald Smoot III - figure amongst the winners.

Some harsh criticism has been directed against the competition (e.g., the relatively short duration of projects supported, the limited number of proposals funded, the focus on foreign researchers versus domestic scientists) and the challenges of implementing “megagrant” projects in Russia (red tape, bureaucracy etc.). Still, interest in the newest call, especially within the so-called Russian scientific diaspora abroad, has been relatively high, with almost one-third of applications coming from Russian scientists who currently live and work abroad. This response can be explained partly by the attractive conditions of the grant, which aim to be on par with top international standards and to compensate for the challenges of being amongst the first to work in Russia under the new framework. From this perspective, the results of this first ambitious attempt of the Russian government to (re-)build bridges with the international scientific community are yet to be assessed.

Russian Ministry of Education and Science (in Russian) Nature News