Duma Backs Competitive Grants

Russian legislators gave a big boost to competitive research just before the New Year, when they completed action on the country's 1997 budget.

The Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament, gave final approval to a $2.72 billion science budget, a 12% increase over 1996 but slightly below what government officials had promised researchers during last year's election campaign. The total included $225 million that was added late in the budget cycle, after negotiations between government and legislative leaders. Last week, the Duma distributed that extra money in ways that favored competitive programs over the traditional hierarchical system of allocating research funds.

The biggest beneficiary was the Russian Foundation for Basic Research, whose budget is scheduled to rise from $99 million to $162 million. The foundation, which funds peer-reviewed proposals from labs across the country, will now get 5.85% of the overall science budget. Another source of grants, the competitive portion of the activities funded by the State Committee for Science and Technologies, also did well, getting a 60% increase, to $29 million. The dominant scientific body in the country, the Russian Academy of Sciences, received an 8% boost, for a total of $415 million; agricultural scientists, doing largely applied work, received an 18% boost; and the much smaller Russian Academy of Medical Sciences received a 5% hike.

Legislators who have advocated Western-style peer review over the top-down funding that has long characterized Russian science were pleased by the outcome. "Given that the share of the Russian Academy of Sciences in the science budget remained at 15% of the science expenditures and the total share of the competitive funding has increased, we can consider it a big success," says Mikhail Glubokovsky, deputy chair of the Duma committee on science and education. "We made an enormous effort to persuade representatives of other factions in the committee, and the increase means that the system of competitive funding is becoming well established in Russia."