DWIH research forum with recipients of Russian mega-grants

Mega-Grant-Gewinner (v.l.n.r.) Kröning, Koltermann, Oberst, Thiede, Nikitov

Mega-grant recipients (L to R) Kröning, Koltermann, Oberst, Thiede, Nikitov

(04.12.12) On the evening of 3 December, the German Research Foundation (DFG) and the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) hosted the 4th German-Russian Research Forum at the German House for Research and Innovation (DWIH) in Moscow. The theme of the forum, with 30 prominent participants, was opportunities for German-Russian research cooperation through the funding of Russian mega-grants for internationally respected researchers to establish research laboratories in Russia.

In June 2010, the Russian Ministry for Education and Science (MON) made available 12 billion roubles (around €300 million) to attract top-level researchers to Russian universities. Project ideas from 79 researchers were selected in two rounds that took place in 2010 and 2011. The recipients of these so-called mega-grants, worth up to 150 million roubles (around US$ 5 million), include 12 researchers from Germany. A total of 1299 Russian and international reviewers were involved in the selection process for the first two rounds, with 79 out of 1024 proposals being approved. The winners included Nobel laureates and internationally noted academics. The countries with the most individual recipients were Russia (39), the USA (20), Germany (12), France (7) and Italy (5). The 12 German researchers are collaborating with partners in Irkutsk, Krasnoyarsk, Moscow, Novosibirsk, St. Petersburg and Tomsk, primarily in mathematical, scientific and engineering fields: energy, space, environmental and geoscience research.

Recipients will use the mega-grants over a period of two years to set up research laboratories at their host universities and recruit qualified staff, in addition to performing teaching duties. The funding is a move by the Russian government to promote innovative university-based research and to increase the internationalisation and attractiveness of Russian universities. As part of the process of university reform, this individual funding is being accompanied by a massive expansion of infrastructure at the new Federal Universities and the National Research Universities, which will each receive around €125 million over a period of five years.

Six grant recipients, as well as their collaboration partners and representatives of their host universities, accepted the invitation to the event at the DWIH. They were German professors Klaus Peter Koltermann (Moscow), Hans Michael Kröning (Tomsk), Jürgen Oberst (Moscow) and Jörn Thiede (St. Petersburg), and also Boris Zhivotovsky (Moscow) and Sergey Nikitov (Saratov). Sergey Nikitov, who is profiled in the Russia supplement to the DFG magazine Forschung 3/2011 , has, like many of the winners, benefited from DFG funding during the course of his career.

Vertreter des DWIH-Moskau

Representatives of DWIH Moscow

For the funding organisations, the aim of the meeting was to work out how to provide German and Russian recipients with the individual support they require. The forum in Moscow followed on from a meeting in Berlin in September with State Secretary Georg Schütte from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). On that occasion, the participants expressed their support for more early career grant programmes, systematic advice, and links between German-Russian funding instruments. The DWIH and its members presented their current funding options, as the first funding period for the mega-grants is about to expire and the new infrastructures offer enormous potential for German-Russian cooperation.

The DFG was able to point to existing bilateral funding arrangements with its partner organisation RFFI, the Russian Foundation for Basic Research. RFFI director Vladimir Eliseev stressed that the jointly funded International Research Training Groups were an example of an ideal exchange programme for bilateral early career support. Jörn Achterberg, director of the DFG's Moscow office, pointed out that there were other coordinated DFG programmes for international cooperation in the shape of Collaborative Research Centres (CRCs), Priority Programmes and Research Units.

In addition to providing information, the event at the DWIH was an excellent networking opportunity. The mega-grant recipients were able to meet with representatives of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (AvH), the DAAD, the DFG, the Helmholtz Association, the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina, the liaison office of the Free University of Berlin and the research department of Siemens. Academy member Valeri Chereshnev, chair of the Committee for Science and Technology in the State Duma, and representatives of the Parliamentary Centre for Science of the State Duma, underlined the political interest in mega-grants and their importance to the internationalisation of the Russian university system. Karsten Heinz, director of the research unit of the German Embassy in Moscow, delivered a welcoming and closing address and stressed the role of the BMBF and German research funding organisations in this process.

As of 3 December 2012, successful applicants from the first two rounds can apply to the Russian science ministry for an extension to their grants. Established researchers are requested to submit new project proposals for up to 90 million roubles (around US$ 3 million) by 31 January 2013. Funding will be awarded for three years (2013-2015), with the possibility of a two-year extension. Both Russian universities and the many research institutions of the Russian Academy of Sciences may participate as host institutions. This makes resources available to a much wider circle of researchers in order to expand international cooperation.