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Russian “megagrants” generate excitement, criticism

On 29 October 2010, the Russian Ministry of Education and Science announced 40 winners of the first open grant competition designed to support research projects implemented by leading scientists (Russian and non-Russian) at Russian institutions of higher learning. Each grantee is expected to receive a “megagrant” award of up to RUB 150 million (or EUR 3.5 million) to conduct research at a Russian university, working with a team comprised of researchers from the host institution.

The general parameters for this programme were articulated in April 2010, when Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin signed decree No. 220, “Measures to Attract Leading Scientists to Russian Educational Institutions”. Beginning in June 2010, leading Russian and foreign scientists were invited to submit applications in partnership with specific Russian universities that were willing and able to ensure the fundamental conditions necessary to implement the proposed research projects. For consideration, applications had to focus on one of nearly two dozen specific fields identified by an official grants council, mostly (although not exclusively) in the STEM areas.

One of the obvious goals of this initiative is to strengthen the research base within Russian universities, and provide them with some substantial financial and intellectual opportunities. The excitement surrounding the unusually large grants, however, has been counterbalanced by complaints of misplaced priorities from some within the Russian academic community. Specifically, requiring that application proposals be in English, or Russian and English, and ultimately selecting only five scientists who live in Russia (although 20 winners are Russian citizens), has been viewed as proof that the competition was geared more toward an international than domestic audience. Despite these concerns, however, the competition is scheduled to move on; another round of 40 winners is expected to be announced in spring 2011.

Russian Ministry of Education and Science