Volume:4, Issue: 1

Apr. 1, 2012

The Development of Innovations in Russia: Problems and Perspectives
Egor V. Neborsky [about]

DESCRIPTORS: innovations, information, university types, brain drain, Skolkovo, research university, technology park, Technopolis, innovation environment.

SYNOPSIS: The author discusses Russia’s problems and aspirations in building state, business, academic, and science cooperation for the development of new technologies.

Nowadays, the problem of the innovative development and eventual commercialization of scientific products is very topical not only for the Russian scientific community but for our entire economy.

Obviously, the development of an economy in the “Knowledge Era” when “information” and to be more precise, “innovative-technologies” (and not labor) plays the main role, is impossible without scientific development and the intricate integration of such fundamental factors as business, science, and education.  The generation of new knowledge is a necessity, but it must also be incorporated in the production process. The time has come for states to be grounded not in the quantity of goods produced but in the unique quality of the goods if they are going to provide the nation’s economy with a competitive advantage.

In discussions between the scientific community, business, universities, and the government of the Russian Federation, a number of problems were identified in the approaches to our national, innovation infrastructure.  The following issues commanded the center of attention: “Which form of integration is most suitable for our country’s specific socio-cultural features?” “What mechanism for cooperation between state, business, and science will be most effective under the current and future circumstances?”

These issues were constantly discussed at various forums and conferences as well as in reports of the Ministry of Education and Science of the Russian Federation. So we will give a more detailed account of them here:

The first problem identified was that of time. In the USA, the origin of science and business integration goes back to 1950’s when Frederick Terman, Provost of Stanford University, decided to lend empty pieces of land to graduates. (#9, p. 23–26) A strong link arose between private companies and the university which eventually resulted in the technology park now world renown as “Silicon Valley.” (#8, 14) Russia, at this time, doesn’t have the luxury of more than a half-century to devote to its innovative developments.

The second problem is a lack of experience. Before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, there was no capitalist economy in our country so there was no mechanism in place to facilitate cooperation between private business, state, and science. As for “Academgorodoks” or Academic Cities such as Dubna, which during the time of the Soviet planned economy, were considered to be autonomous institutions, there were still no links between science and state-owned businesses or between science and the state education system. The main client for scientific innovation was the state, and knowledge was strictly specialized, closely guarded and was considered to have no commercial role at all.

One should not confuse the old Soviet term, “Academgorodok” with the term, “Naukograd” or Scientific City, which appeared in 1991 as an attempt to promote scientific-industrial cooperation in order to maintain and develop the infrastructure inherited from the USSR. The first “Naukograd” appeared in the year 2000. It is the city of Obninsk where peaceful uses for atomic power are under development.

One should also not confuse the institution known as an “Academgorodok” with the concept of education because there existed in “Academgorodoks” in the old days a policy of “Closed Academism.” The institution’s research work in the scientific fields in which “Academgorodok” specialized was carried out in secrecy and that knowledge usually didn’t go outside the campus and certainly didn’t penetrate into the mass education system of the Soviet state.

By the end of 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s, this factor resulted in a “brain drain” which was unique to such fields as physics and space research. In the USA by the early 90s, there was a lack of science and technical specialists, and the emigration of Russian scientists as well as scientists from South Korea, Japan, and India filled the gap.

In the USA today, however, higher education is feeling a kind of imbalance between humanities specialists and the engineering sciences. For example, the most popular fields of study for candidates for a Bachelor’s degree in 2008-2009 were: business (348,000); social science and history (169,000); health care sciences (120,000); and education (102,000.)

The most popular fields for a Master’s degree were: education (179,000) and business (168,000.) The most popular fields for a PhD were: health care sciences (12,000); education (9,000); engineering (7,900); biology and biomedicine (7,000); psychology (5,500); and natural science (5,000.) (9; 10; 11) All in all, the number of specialists in the humanities is much larger than those entering the science, technology, and engineering fields.

Infrastructure constitutes the third problem, and it has been with us from the outset. Former “Academgorodoks,” some of which later became “Naukograds,” were scattered around the vast territory of our country and inherited their particular specialization from the old, Soviet model. Often this specialization was in a field inherited along with its infrastructure from the USSR.  For that reason, it is now necessary to create new science centers where a variety of technology and science fields would be concentrated in order to fill the new demands and to insure profitability.

The forth problem is our “brain drain.”  Despite the commonplace view that the wave of scientific and technological emigration from Russia has decreased, it is not true. The group of Russian physicists, including the Nobel Prize winner of 2010, K. Novoselov, who moved to Great Britain is a vivid example. There is no doubt that the number of science emigrants became less at least because other countries had filled their scientific staff needs, but Russian scientists are still looking for new places to reside for a variety of social, economic, and political reasons.

All these problems, as well as many others, pushed the Government of the Russian Federation to create a new infrastructure, which included commercialization possibilities for the results of scientific research work. The government is certainly interested in new, scientific achievements because the dependence of the Russian economy on raw materials is becoming, more and more, a factor which is slowing innovative development in Russia. The apparent stability that now exists in the country is dependent on the high prices for our oil, gas and other energy resources but not on our new technologies.

On September 28, 2010, the president of Russia, D.A. Medvedev, signed Federal Bill # 244, “Concerning the Innovation Center at Skolkovo” that came into being on September 30. (7) The idea of creating an innovation center was demonstrated to the Russian Government by Maxim Kalashnikov, politician, public figure, and Russian journalist, who addressed the president through an open letter in which he presented his own vision for the future of Russian science in the form of a “Futuropolis” or city of the future. (6; 7) By the end of 2010, both Chambers of the Russian Parliament worked out the necessary bills which provided the legislative ground for a full-fledged and functioning Skolkovo. On March 23, 2011, in California, an innovation center was opened to promote cooperation between Skolkovo and interested organizations in the United States of America. At present, there are heated discussions about the role of the innovation center at Skolkovo. Its construction should be completed within 3-5 years according to the plans of the Russian government. Whether it will help to solve the urgent problems involved in the modernization of the Russian economy is still an open question.

Experiences of the first months work show that new problems have appeared and solving them will take time and energy. We should remember that the creation of a strong mechanism for business and science cooperation is a new experience for Russia. Skolkovo is new and mistakes in oversight, frauds and other errors will be made. Grants given to faux scientists and the damage they have done already totals 200 billion rubles or about $6.6 billion US dollars a year. (11)

Despite the good intentions of Skolkovo’s managers as well as of the Russian government, the innovation center itself can hardly be compared to “Silicon Valley” either in form or structure. Our model resembles the Japanese techno-cities such as Tsukuba, “the City of the Brain,” but in miniature, but it’s impossible to make complete comparisons because Skolkovo is a unique project. It’s a feature of the Russian character to feel shy about our inventions and to disguise them as Western ones. It is important to remember that Russia exists between two worlds, one European and one Asian. That is why many of our inventions have a so-called “double context.”

In my book Universities of USA: Educational and Research Center, I give a detailed description of American and Japanese types of education, science, and business integration that have specific forms. (9)

The first form I describe is an American one based on the principle of patronage and is called a “research university.” This occurs when a university such as a well known, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, accumulates around itself business incubators, research laboratories, and so on. The university takes an active role as a facilitator between business and science.

The second form is also an American one based on the principle of partnership and is called a “technology park.” (The name depends on its inner structure and form.) A “technology park” or “tech park” can be selfuctured as is the case with “Route 128.” In this case, the university takes the main role in an active partnership with business.
The third form is Japanese and is based on the principle of neighborhood and is called “Technopolis.”  It originated in Japan during the 1980s and is aimed at speeding up the development of science. The same thing is now going on in Russia. There are laboratories, universities, business incubators, etc. on-site at “Technopolis.” The main role of development in such a form of integration was taken up by the Japanese government represented by the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Industry which called for particular developments and then attracted big, private companies into the process of cooperation. In other words, it worked as a mediator between science and business.

In the first form of integration described above, the link was carried out by the university itself. It was interested in promoting its own alumni. Universities often share in ownership of “start-ups” which are original ventures where new technology is being introduced. In the second form previously described, the link between university and business is licensed by some governmental “technology office.” The third form, the Japanese one, supports links between nominal structure elements through various agreements between universities and private companies. In this particular case, the laboratories which are situated on the property of the “Technopolis” or near the cooperating university are nationalized and belong to the state. The university itself doesn’t have the means to attract investment from private companies. Education remains its main function. (9, 135–143)

Quite different from the above mentioned forms, Skolkovo represents an entirely new one. It is an innovation center where the leading role is played by the government which gives financial support, as managers of Skolkovo call it, through a state “endowment fund” received from the government for scientific projects selected on a competitive basis. At its initial stage, this form is the most suitable one for Russia since it provides us with the possibility of a stepped-up development of science and technology.

As has already been indicated, Russia, as well as Japan at a certain period, doesn’t have the luxury of time for a gradual, natural development when science can form relations with business itself. The interference of the Japanese government at that particular period in its history did no harm. On the contrary, it stimulated the “Japanese Miracle.” The same reason can be used in Russia. With appropriate management and sufficient finances, the Skolkovo and other innovation centers will be able to catch up in certain scientific fields and even provide for the development of new technologies which may be able to help Russia get rid of its reliance on the exploitation of its raw materials as a means of supporting the full weight of the nation’s economy. Everything depends on the talent of our scientists and appropriate, financial management.

This article doesn’t deal with the political aspects of the problem in Russia. Its entire attention has been given to the analysis of innovation centers from the point of view of their structure, function, form, and peculiar features.

There is a particular problem with the Russian model for innovation centers. Government financing for new scientific projects which may, at some later point, move to private ownership can be a positive, international, competitive advantage, but Russian legislation has no mechanism to regulate the process. In other words, the government, using its own money, may help “private capital” to strengthen its position in the field of science, but the government’s final goal could be distorted. It is entirely possible that science could be turned into a private lab for big business and eventually become its servant. During the 1990s, Russia was in the process of turning to capitalism, but the government was not able to provide speedy and appropriate legislative regulation for the field of industry. This situation could repeat itself in the case of science and technology products as it pursues a “knowledge economy.” This could have a very serious influence on the country’s overall, economic development.

One more problem for innovation introduction is certainly the global economic crisis. The shaky world economy has a negative impact on innovation introduction and investment in this field as corporations try to reduce their possible risks. Russia is still low on the list of known for innovation. High on this list are the usual nations: the USA, Germany, China, and Japan. (2) The global economic situation has slowed the development of an innovation environment in Russia and its further reorientation toward new economic guidelines including the development of human potential. In general, however, a policy has been defined and the Skolkovo Innovation Center has been budgeted 50 billion rubles (about $1.6 billion USD) in 2012; 42 billion rubles (about $1.4 billion USD) is going to be financed by the government and 8 billion rubles (about $266 million USD) have been mobilized from private investors. (12) Although it’s a relatively modest amount so far, the main point is that the process has at last begun to move.

Over the centuries, Russian science has made many valuable contributions to world science. It is therefore reasonable to hope that development of innovation in Russia will speed up and soon enable us to join the ranks of technological innovation leaders as the USA, Germany, China, and Japan.


  1. Federal Law of the Russian Federation, September 28, 2010, No. 244. “Concerning the Skolkovo Center.”   Moscow: The Russian Gazette, 2010. #5299.
  2. Hamraeva V. “’Navyazannie’ innovacii utyanuli Rossiyu vniz reitinga gosudarstv-innovatorov.” Moscow:RBC-Daily. Jan.19, 2012.
  3. http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=37
  4. http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_fsu.asp
  5. http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/pdf/coe_fsu.pdf
  6. http://m-kalashnikov.livejournal.com/141905.html
  7. http://ru.wikipedia.org
  8. McLaughlin J.; Weimers L.; Winslow W. “Silicon Valley: 110 Year Renaissance.” Santa Clara Valley Historical Association. 2008. 202.
  9. Neborsky E. “Universitety Ssha: obrazovatelniy i nauchniy centr: A Monograph.” Saarbrücken: LAP Lambert Academic Publishing, 2011.180.
  10. Neborsky E. “Economica obrazovania Ssha: universitety i capitalizatsiya: A Monograph.” Saarbrücken: LAP Lambert Academic Publishing, 2012. 76.
  11. Petlevoy V. “Izobretateley ‘vechnih dvigateley’ stalo menche, no finansoviy usherb ot nih uvelichilsya.” Moscow: RBC-Daily, Jan. 19, 2012. http://www.rbcdaily.ru/2011/12/20/media/562949982336143.
  12. Petlevoy V. “Fond ‘Skolkova’ potratit v 2012 godu 50 milliardov rubley.” Moscow: RBC-Daily. Dec.20,2011. http://www.rbcdaily.ru/2011/12/20/media/562949982336143.
  13. “Poslanie Prezidenta Rossii Federalnomu Sobraniu ot 12 noiyabrya 2009 goda.”
  14. Stewart Gillmor. “C. Fred Terman at Stanford: Building a Discipline, a University, and Silicon Valley.” Stanford University Press, 2004. 672.

Neborsky, Egor Valentinovich, [In Russian: Егор Валентинович Неборский], PhD., Senior Lecturer, Udmurt State University, Izhevsk, Russia.

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