President Medvedev says Russia must plug brain drain

Tue Dec 14, 2010 12:47pm EST

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* Critics say Medvedev must do more to plug brain drain

By Thomas Grove

MOSCOW, Dec 14 (Reuters) - President Dmitry Medvedev said on Tuesday Russia must improve working conditions to stem an exodus of its brightest scientists that is crippling innovation and impeding plans to diversify the economy. Critics cite corruption and Soviet-style bureaucracy as the largest obstacles to boosting science and technology in Russia, famous for educating world-famous scientists only to see them work abroad.

"There is only one way to combat this -- by creating normal conditions for work and development," state news agency RIA quoted Medvedev as saying at his showcase Skolkovo project, Russia's planned counterbid to California's Silicon Valley.

He said it was not too late to halt the brain drain.

"We need to take it seriously, but we should not fear it and say that everyone has left and that's it," Medvedev said.

The Kremlin hopes creating Skolkovo, a science park outside Moscow designed to nurture innovative businesses, will attract high-end technology investors and help boost technology revenues in a country where half the budget comes from oil and gas.

Russia -- the core of the Soviet Union, which put the first man in space and developed nuclear weapons -- has a reputation for producing world class physicists and engineers.

The Soviet government prevented top scientists and many other citizens from traveling abroad. To entice scientists to stay at home or return to Russia, Medvedev said, "we need to undertake serious efforts, but there are no other options. We can't lower an iron curtain to prevent a brain drain."

This year's Nobel Prize winners for physics, Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, both Russian scientists who did their prize winning research abroad, highlight the extent of Russia's loss of its most innovative researchers.

Geim said in an interview with Reuters that modernising the economy was impossible so long as Russia retained its Soviet-trained ruling elite. [ID:nLDE6AA2BF]

He also said state backing for better labs and equipment as well as competitive grants in education -- copying the Western model -- could steer Russian scientists to more efficiency and innovation.

Medvedev praised Geim and Novoselov for winning the Nobel prize for showing how carbon just one atom thick behaved, but he said he regretted they worked abroad.

Some 2,200 Russian scientists wrote a letter to Medvedev in July saying his plan for economic innovation was doomed if Russia failed to attract new students or teachers into science, which is seriously underfunded in comparison with western peers.

Medvedev has focused on the need for modernisation and aims to cut a softer image than his predecessor and mentor, current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who worked to restore state control over the country's lucrative energy sector. (Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

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