University Science and the New Strategy of Scientific and Technological Development: Challenges and Priorities

University Science and the New Strategy of Scientific and Technological Development: Challenges and Priorities

In this issue, TSU Rector Eduard Galazhinskiy talks about the new Strategy of Scientific and Technological Development of the Russian Federation and how it relates to the main directions of scientific development of Tomsk State University within the framework of the Priority 2030 Program.

— Professor Galazhinskiy, the new Strategy of Scientific and Technological Development of the Russian Federation was published at the very end of February. What can you say about this document?

— It has helped all of us to finally realize the priorities of today's domestic science and the reality in which it will function in the coming years. Along with that, it also sketches out, as expected, distant horizons. About a year ago, at a meeting of the Council for Science and Education, Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin recommended revising the strategy that was in effect at that time, in 2016. The appearance of a new version of this document was expected, as much has changed in the country and the world since then. These changes are connected not only with the events that have occurred since February 24, 2022, but also directly with the breakthrough discoveries that have occurred in the field of science and technology in the last 8-9 years, primarily with artificial intelligence bursting into our lives. AI has become a "cross-cutting" technology for practically all areas of modern society. Today, it is hard to name any technological process that does not involve AI to some degree. Notable shifts have also occurred in research methods, among which the analysis of Big Data now plays a great role. Along with that, technological and other risks have increased, indicating new challenges to the Russian scientific community. It is clear that all these events and discoveries have obligated the country's leadership to reconfigure the strategy of its scientific and technological development to make it not only more relevant but also a real compass for those who must implement it.

— In your opinion, what has fundamentally changed in the strategy that was published on 28 February? It is no secret that in the regions, such voluminous documents with dense text are not always read carefully.

— To immediately see this new aspect, I would recommend that heads of scientific divisions and collectives have both strategies before them at the same time — the previous one fr om 2016, and the current one from 2024, in order to compare them literally point by point. Yes, the structure of the strategies is approximately the same, but that is precisely what makes their comparative analysis easier. As you read the first section (General Provisions), it becomes clear that the number of fundamental concepts defined and used in the new strategy has significantly increased. Previously, there were only five of them (scientific and technological development of the Russian Federation, major challenges, priorities of scientific and technological development, independence, competitiveness). Now, six more have been added: science-intensive products, science-intensive technologies, qualified customer, technological sovereignty, major innovation project, and federal scientific and technical program. In essence, all of these eleven concepts are key in defining the focus of the new strategy, revealing the main meanings of this message from the leadership of the country to the Russian scientific and technological community as a community of scientists, developer-technologists, heads of innovative manufacturers, and investors.

Using the example of the "qualified customer" concept, you can clearly see the principles that guided the developers of the strategy. On the one hand, there is an increase in responsibility: a qualified customer, as an initiator of implementing a scientific or scientific and technical project, must ensure the formation of a technical assignment or placement of an order on the corresponding platforms, and take direct part in defining the requirements for the executors of such a project, as well as in its financial support, monitoring implementation, acceptance of results, and their introduction into the country's economy. On the other hand, there is an expansion of capabilities: qualified customers may not only be federal and regional executive bodies, but also organizations operating in the actual sector of the economy. This two-sided approach — increasing responsibility with an expansion of capabilities — also functions in the entire strategy as a whole. However, the degree of expansion of capabilities in each case varies, taking into account all the circumstances of the current foreign and domestic socio-political and economic situation.

Another example: a careful reading of point 8 of the new strategy allows you to understand the depth of changes in the conditions under which it was developed. It now states that a key factor determining the competitiveness of national economies and the effectiveness of national security strategies is a high pace of mastering new knowledge and creating science-intensive products on one's technological foundation. Such a clarification was absent in the previous strategy. This radically changes the scale and complexity of the tasks for scientific and technological development of the country. Looking ahead, it is worth noting that in the new strategy, unlike the old one, the scenario of importing technologies and fragmentary development of research and development integrated into global science, but occupying subordinate positions in it, is not considered. The main emphasis is placed on achieving complete scientific and technological sovereignty.

Or consider point 10, wh ere not just two stages of this development starting in 1991 are highlighted, but three. The third phase (fr om 2022 to the present) is characterized as a stage of mobilization in the scientific and technological sphere, amidst sanctions pressure, and simultaneous consolidation of our society and economic entities to address the pertinent tasks. In essence, there is nothing accidental or insignificant in the new strategy.

— How much have the major challenges changed for Russian society, the state, and science? If I remember correctly, there were seven in the previous document.

— They are all still considered relevant. This is why they were originally labeled as "major," making it challenging to fully address them in a relatively short period such as the last eight years. However, necessary clarifications have been made to almost all of these challenges. Previously, for instance, there was discussion about exhausting the economic growth potential in Russia, relying heavily on exploiting natural resources, against the backdrop of the emergence of a digital economy and the rise of leading countries with new technologies geared towards renewable resources. Now, this backdrop is described slightly differently. It now encompasses the rise of a data economy, alongside the rapid advancements in artificial intelligence technologies across all economic sectors and the social domain. So, what sets apart these economies? It is worth noting that during his recent address to the Federal Assembly, President Vladimir Putin announced the initiation of a new national project called "Data Economy." The primary objective of this project is to establish digital platforms utilizing quantum and photon technologies in key sectors of the economy and social aspects. Essentially, this involves creating a digital ecosystem that spans the entire country, ensuring real-time transmission of information among all its components. This is crucial for enhancing domestic communication systems, unmanned transportation, robotics, healthcare, and more.


But in addition to the seven clarified major challenges, the strategy designates and places another challenge as the top priority. A few years ago, this challenge was not perceived as clearly as it is now: the transformation of the world order. This transformation is accompanied by a restructuring of global financial, logistical, and manufacturing systems, as well as the growth in geopolitical and economic instability, international competition, adversarial behavior, and systemic inequality. All of this is unfolding against a backdrop of the weakening of national state institutions and the complexity of participating in international cooperation within the realms of scientific, technical, and innovation activities.

If we consider the new strategy through the lens of a rector of a classic university, what I found most significant was the emphasis on the key role of fundamental science in preparing the country's scientific and technological sector to address major challenges. Previously, while fundamental science was mentioned, it was never highlighted as prominently. Additionally, the fundamental principle of state policy in scientific and technological development, emphasizing the inseparable connection between the scientific-educational, scientific-technological, and industrial potential of the country, and the interdependence of their development, holds great significance for us as university professionals. This principle was also absent in the previous strategy.

— Please don't take this as a provocative question: Would you want to introduce any corrections to the new strategy? Perhaps something is missing in it, despite the developers' efforts?

— As the rector of a classical university, I believe that the new strategy should have included a mention of the threat to the cultural identity of Russian citizens among the hybrid external threats to national security. This was highlighted in a similar document back in 2016, and the threat has not only persisted but has significantly escalated in the past two years. Western information technologists are continuously attempting to influence the mass consciousness and subconscious of Russian citizens through social networks and messengers, using "foreign" cultural codes. This cultural expansion leads to the formation of corresponding thought and behavioral patterns among adults and young people, ultimately altering the overall worldview. Regrettably, the new strategy doesn't frequently address words related to "culture". Given the West's efforts to denigrate Russian culture and the intense information and communication rivalry between Russia and its ideological adversaries, the socio-humanitarian aspect of the country's scientific and technological development should also rank among the priorities.

— Professor Galazhinskiy, have you noticed a direct connection between the new strategy and the development program of Tomsk State University within the Priority 2030 Project? After all, TSU's development areas were identified and approved long before the emergence of this document. Is it possible that these areas are not as relevant as initially thought?

— On the contrary, the new strategy has indeed affirmed their relevance, which has greatly motivated us. As a research university, we have always prioritized fundamental research. However, I cannot ignore the fact that there has been a recent shift in our thinking. With the mobilizational nature of developing the domestic scientific and technological sphere and the urgent requirement to ensure its complete sovereignty as soon as possible, the traditional focus of a university on fundamental research may appear somewhat out of sync. Nonetheless, we took the bold step of highlighting fundamental research as one of the three core components of TSU's new scientific and innovation policy for 2024. The other two pillars are strengthening collaboration with industrial partners and cultivating young scientists.


It should be noted that making such a choice of priorities was not easy. As a major classical university, we need to maintain diversity, which is both our complexity and development potential. We have always strived to preserve this complexity, even in the face of expert opinions. I believe that scientists and research teams understand best what needs to be preserved and developed. In a classical university, unlike an industry-focused one, "all flowers must bloom." Our effectiveness and adaptability stem from this diversity. However, we must also be realistic: in the current mobilization-driven development of the scientific and technological sphere and university sector, wh ere resources are limited, we cannot support every potential area of growth.

Over the past challenging ten years, we have successfully preserved and supported our main asset in this regard: our scientific schools. The results of 2023 demonstrated the wisdom of this approach; our growth in RSF grants was significant, increasing fr om 55 million rubles in 2014 to 489 million rubles last year. Coupled with state megagrants, and presidential grants for young scientists, the university secured close to 600 million rubles in grant funding, showcasing significant progress.

In discussions regarding TSU's scientific policy for 2024, we concluded that, in addition to the strategic areas outlined in the Priority 2030 Program, specific local tasks should be established each year. This year, as mentioned earlier, these tasks include the development of fundamental research, enhancing collaboration with industrial partners, and nurturing young scientists. By localizing our focus in this way, our team can better understand how to operate. The resources available to us will then be allocated based on these three primary areas. Funding should primarily support projects wh ere leaders commit to producing tangible results. The university's scientific policy must align with the four strategic areas already approved: "Global Changes on Earth: Climate, Ecology, Quality of Life," "Engineering (Synthetic) Biology 2.0: Biodesign, Molecular, and Cellular Engineering," "Socio-Humanitarian Engineering: Research and Design of Humans and Society," and "Security Technologies."

If we delve into the fundamental nature of the issue, we should identify two or three specific fundamental projects. When it comes to engaging with industrial partners, our focus should be on transferring technology to two or three specific large-scale industries. This is a crucial task, as technology transfer has progressed more slowly than desired. Moreover, all endeavors should be infused with specific cross-cutting technologies, with a particular emphasis on big data and artificial intelligence. I would also include unmanned technologies and genetic engineering under the category of "cross-cutting" technologies, as they play a vital role in various industries related to security, climate, transportation, healthcare, and agriculture.

This framework clarifies why, despite challenges, we advocate for supporting "megascience" class scientific projects. Through their implementation, we achieve multiple outcomes simultaneously: conducting fundamental research, developing innovative technologies and products, and nurturing talented personnel. In addition to yielding one or two doctoral degrees, these projects generate an extra benefit of producing twenty to thirty skilled individuals capable of handling advanced technologies at a high level. While they may not hold doctoral titles, their expertise elevates to a level that attracts interest from various companies. Properly integrating these skilled individuals into these companies leads to financial backing for such projects, bridging the gap between research, innovation, and education. Without this approach, cultivating such intricate competencies would be unfeasible.


Returning to the previous question, I would like to point out that when you examine the TSU development program until 2030 in the context of the new "RF Strategy for Scientific and Technological Development," it becomes apparent that the strategic areas for the advancement of our university's science align with the majority of the identified priorities and future prospects of the country's scientific and technological development, effectively addressing significant challenges. I encourage the most interested readers to conduct their own analysis to confirm this.

— What has changed in the policy and target indicators of the Priority 2030 Program this year?

— In general, one can assert that funding for the program has been somewhat reduced due to objective reasons, yet the indicators not only fail to decrease but also see increases in certain areas. The primary focus now lies on the expansion of extra-budgetary financing. Presently, for every budget ruble allocated, one extra-budgetary ruble must be secured through business contracts. To streamline contract-based activities, we are establishing TSU's scientific and technological engineering center this year. In line with this objective, we have conducted audits on all 34 small enterprises that form part of our university's innovation cluster. Subsequently, we will engage with each enterprise's leaders to ensure the correct establishment and implementation of their innovation policies. These small enterprises are expected to play a pivotal role in driving technological advancements in the industry.

The volume of research and development (excluding government orders) has seen a significant increase of 500 million, a remarkable achievement. Equally important is achieving the necessary funding for research and development from the university's resources, amounting to 40 million, which may include revenue generated from educational activities. The key takeaway from these developments is the necessity of strategic planning for the expansion of our scientific laboratories, aligning with the strategic directions of development and maintaining an annual focus on specific projects. It is imperative to engage with industries, striking a balance between fundamental and applied research, and devising diverse proposals for potential partners. In the current landscape of heightened competition for resources, it is crucial to adeptly navigate various funding sources, forming collaborations with partners and key stakeholders in the country's technological development landscape.

TSU Rector Eduard Galazhinskiy, member of the Council for Science and Education under the President of the Russian Federation

The interview was recorded by Irina Kuzheleva-Sagan

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