Russian Science Gets Financial Boost

A unique effort to improve Russian science has won a ringing endorsement: Two heavyweight U.S. foundations are plowing $12.5 million into an effort to create scientific oases in Russia's desertified university system. The funding boost more than doubles the budget of the fledgling Basic Research and Higher Education (BRHE) Program, allowing it to expand from eight to 16 centers across the country.

BRHE's aim is to help break down the firewall between the Russian Academy of Sciences' institutes--where much of the country's best research is carried out--and the universities, which tend to lack world-class scientists. The program gives university-based centers 3-year, $1.05 million grants for purchasing major equipment and supplies, with the stipulation that the center collaborate with academy researchers. These are huge amounts--as much as a third of a recipient university's annual budget.

The new money announced last month--$11.5 million over 5 years from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and $1 million over 2 years from the Carnegie Corporation of New York--will allow the BRHE to give 2-year extensions to some existing centers as well as add four centers in the Russian provinces. The first winners will be announced in November, with another four centers to be chosen in 2002.

The initiative has required the Russian federal government and local authorities to pony up half the funding for each center. The fact that Russia has come up with every ruble it has pledged "tells us that we're responding to a need that's real," says Gerson Sher, president of the Civilian Research and Development Foundation, an Arlington, Virginia-based nonprofit that runs BRHE with Russia's Ministry of Education.