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State reforms science funding to improve spending efficiency

Luo Wangshu
Updated: Jan 15,2015 8:23 AM     China Daily

In the traditional Chinese view, scientists are thought to not care about money but focus solely on their “pure” work.

So when news reports emerged in 2014 that the youngest academician from the Chinese Academy of Engineering, elite transgene researcher Li Ning, had been detained for embezzling and defrauding a research fund of 25 million yuan ($4 million), the nation was shocked.

China’s top authority aims to curb academic corruption and increase the efficiency of spending with a recently issued reform on State scientific research funds administration, hoping to reduce academic corruption at the root.

The reform, issued by the State Council on Jan 12, changes the government’s role from that of sponsor to supervisor. The government will hand over the power of fund allocation to third-party professional institutes.

Under the current system, the government has the power to both distribute state research funds and supervise their use, which can easily lead to corruption.

With the reform, projects will be approved based on the characteristics of research in five categories, including issues for state consideration, the natural sciences and key national research that benefits society.

“The reform will increase the efficiency of input and maximize the use of funds,” said Zhao Lu, director of the Education, Science and Culture Department of the Ministry of Finance.

A council will be established to oversee fund allocation, aiming to increase communication among government sections. Members of the council will include representatives of agencies such as the Ministry of Science and Technology, the Ministry of Finance and the National Development and Reform Commission.

At present, each government section manages its science research projects separately. Research may have been conducted simultaneously due to a lack of communication, wasting research funds.

“At present, 40 government sections manage 90 state scientific research projects, which easily results in overlap,” said Zhao of the Ministry of Finance.

The new system allows decision-makers from different government sections to discuss and plan research projects.

The council will make all decisions, including proposing research projects, selecting appropriate professional institutes, listing evaluation scholars and terminating stalled projects.

“In the past, the system lacked a top-to-bottom design to manage research funds. The reform fills in that blank by establishing a joint council,” said Zhang Xiaoyuan, director of the Department of Facilities and Financial Support of the Ministry of Science and Technology, adding that a research funding system needs to be well-designed.

Drafting of the reform began in 2014. Project applications will follow the new rule beginning on Jan 15. The reform allows a three-year transition period to 2017.

China’s economic growth has slowed since 2011. The central government has increased its input into science and technology over the past decade, but the efficiency of the funding utilization has become more important.

The central government invested 246 billion yuan in science and technology in 2013, out of total expenses of 13.9 trillion yuan.