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Crystals are needed in order to cut diamonds

President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko demands that Belarusian scientists make breakthrough developments of world level, speaking at session hosted by National Academy of Sciences
By Vasily Kharitonov

Before the meeting began, the President toured an exhibition of Belarusian scientific achievements, which showcased over 200 innovations across various spheres. NAS scientists have been working with those from other ministries, departments and institutions to achieve accomplishments in the branches of space, biotechnologies, pharmaceuticals, medicine, chemistry and agriculture.

The Head of State heard a report on the Belarusian space satellite system, which is providing data to 11 ministries; contracts have already been signed which will repay about a quarter of the investment into the satellite. A pilotless aircraft was also presented for the President’s attention.

Mr. Lukashenko inspected the latest Belarusian developments in the sphere of materials and high-tech productions, by the NAS’ Institute of Nature Management, Institute of Microbiology, and Institute of Biophysics and Cell Engineering, alongside those by Peleng JSC, the Centre of Analytical and Genetic Engineering Research, and the Republican Centre of Genomic Biotechnologies — among others. Belarusian scientists are at the cutting edge in some spheres, including stem cell regenerative medicine.

Mr. Lukashenko believes that Belarus enjoys similar conditions to those in Japan, South Korea and Singapore. “We lack natural resources but have powerful intellectual potential and talented specialists. I don’t want to offend you but our country has yet to see noticeable achievements in any high-tech sphere,” noted the President. “Demonstrations at the exhibition today are significant, with some true breakthroughs; these are landmarks to remember as we advance.”

The President asserted that Belarusian scientists’ achievements — as reported by the media — remain below world-level. Despite innovations in creating supercomputers, satellites, cancer research, and the use of transgenic goats, as well as the setting up of a cell technology centre, Mr. Lukashenko laments that there are ‘no revolutionary discoveries or inventions’. He wonders why this may be and how the situation can be addressed, inviting scientists to offer ideas for change. He believes that our scientists are busy, but that their work lacks true greatness.

Scientists gave feedback that their progress has been impeded by low levels of investment (relative to GDP) and lack of prestige in pursuing a scientific career. The President admitted that investment into science in Belarus (as a share of GDP) is lower than in sci-tech leading countries, like Singapore, Japan and the USA. However, he noted that most financing abroad is provided by corporations and companies, rather than from national budgets. “This source of financing is underused in Belarus,” he agreed. “Innovative companies account for 26 percent of the total in Belarus; in the European Union, their share is as much as 80 percent.”

The President is keen to know why corporations are failing to invest in Belarusian science, wondering if they lack faith in the projects being offered or in their quality. He noted that there are a third fewer scientists today, compared to 1985, and that the number of people applying for postgraduate courses is falling. Most of those employed are from the older generation, which will present problems in future. These, and other acute issues hampering the development of Belarusian science, topped the agenda during the session.

The President asked scientists and executives to give their thoughts on areas of innovative study deserving funding — with a mind to economic returns — and questioned whether existing, efficient technologies might be extended. The agenda also included thoughts on fundamental research and Mr. Lukashenko asked whether the academic sector, the university sector or the industrial sector produced the most relevant solutions. He was keen to learn how these sectors interact, for maximum benefit, stating, “A key issue is how to create a system of economic incentives that will facilitate the implementation of new solutions into production, without using administrative methods. How is Belarus encouraging venture financing for research projects?”

The Chairman of the Presidium of the National Academy of Sciences, Vladimir Gusakov, noted that Belarusian science is liaising with manufacturing enterprises, to ensure relevant application. In 2013, around 86 percent of NAS expenditure was directed into applied research and developments. Meanwhile most of the funding allocated from the Republican budget is returned as targeted budgetary funds via taxes and duties, paid by academic institutions.
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