Pilot reforms to give scientists more autonomy

Updated: 2018-07-07
Pilot reforms to give scientists more autonomy

China will test new reforms that grant more autonomy to science workers in selected research institutes, officials said on Friday.

The pilot program aims to streamline administration of scientific affairs and promote scientific exploration and innovation in basic research, they added.

The country aims to reduce the number of assessments and improve the efficiency of Chinese research by 2020, according to guidelines recently issued by the general offices of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and the State Council.

During an executive meeting on Wednesday, the State Council promised to reform the management of scientific research, reduce repetitive paperwork and delegate more power to researchers to make decisions, according to its website.

The reforms will allow researchers to focus on producing quality, innovative work without the hassles of cumbersome permits and paperwork, said Li Meng, vice-minister of the Ministry of Science and Technology.

The main items of the reforms include optimizing budget management, and exempting explorative basic research and science projects that last less than three years from repetitive progress evaluations, Li said.

Researchers will be free to decide how to carry out their projects so long as their research direction and goals stayed the same, Li said. Research institutes will also have full control over their budget, except for equipment purchases.

New methods and criteria are in the pipeline to evaluate the performance of researchers and institutes and reward them accordingly, Li said. Academic titles will not be directly tied to material awards, instead researchers will be rewarded based on the scientific values and socioeconomic impact of their work.

Published papers will still be a key criterion, but now more weight will be placed on the quality of papers rather than their quantity, and the ministry is crafting a new assessment system to reflect this principle, Li said.

Scientists and engineers who are working in key scientific fields or core technologies will get a pay raise. High quality talent and full-time scientists who head projects will receive salaries annually instead of monthly, Li said, adding the change will give key scientists more economic freedom.

Future assessments will be clearer, more balanced and practical with greater emphasis on end results and social impact, Li said. China will also have different treatments when dealing with projects that fail to meet their goals.

Scientists who are doing difficult basic research are encouraged to try new ideas and will be less scrutinized if they fail. However, scientists who commit academic misconduct that leads to a project's failure will be severely punished, Li said.

These reforms will first be piloted in selected institutes and projects, and successful reforms will be implemented nationwide, Li said. Li did not provide the list of institutes, nor the length of the program.

He Defang, the director of the ministry's department of policy, regulation and supervision, said the prerequisites for delegating more power to scientists are trust and honesty, which are also key in upholding scientific integrity.

"While we are delegating more power, we are also improving our supervision," he said. "The end goal of the reform is to produce world class scientific achievements that can help our country achieve high quality economic growth."

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