Revealing letter from mathematicians: the increase in the number of scientists with degrees discredits science

The course for a sharp increase in the number of candidates and doctors of science was taken by the Russian authorities. The new federal law, which came into force at the beginning of October, confirmed this radical change in the system of attestation of scientific personnel in the country. Now they will “stamp” the new “lights of science” as if on a conveyor belt.

To the aid of the Higher Attestation Commission and 20 “most-most” respected educational and scientific organizations, for example, Moscow State University. Lomonosov and St. Petersburg State University, which were given the right to independently award academic degrees back in 2016, about 100 more organizations will come. Changes are being implemented rapidly, so that the academic community does not have time to express its attitude towards them. At the same time, Minister Valery Falkov proposes to simplify the process of defending dissertations in the academic councils of those organizations that so far remain “under the control” of the VAK. It remains only to ask the question: why is this being done? Last week, the Department of Mathematical Sciences of the Russian Academy of Sciences sent a letter to the Presidium of the Russian Academy of Sciences, in which academicians expressed their disagreement with the proposed changes.

“MK” tried to understand the situation. Let’s start with the draft law, which was submitted to the State Duma in March by the chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Science and Education, Sergei Kabyshev, and deputy Alexander Mazhuga. Initially, the document “On Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation” was generally about something else. It concerned the granting of additional rights to educational institutions of only one structure – the Skolkovo Innovation Center. In particular, they talked about the right to award not only Russian, but also foreign academic degrees at Skolkovo, in particular PhD – Doctor of Philosophy – the most common academic degree abroad, which corresponds to our candidate.

The bill was supported by the government. But in the summer, before the second reading, it was unexpectedly completely revised and soon adopted.

– In the final version of the law dated October 7, 2022 No. 397-FZ, signed by the president, much less is said about Skolkovo, – academician Boris Kashin explains. – We are talking about clarifying the decision taken five years ago to grant the rights of “autonomy” to a very wide range of organizations (there are more than 100 of them). These are all federal universities, national research universities, state research centers, as well as all universities “that have achieved high results in scientific and scientific and technical activities and have authority in the training of scientific and scientific and pedagogical personnel.” That is, – a very significant part of our educational institutions – go and prove which of them has no authority. In addition, in addition to awarding academic degrees according to locally developed criteria, they are also allowed to determine the composition and powers of academic councils that award these degrees. At the same time, holders of degrees awarded “according to the new scheme” are fully equated with “classical” doctors and candidates of sciences. The clarification of the wording of the law, which was carried out, is obviously connected with the intention of the authorities to speed up the reform of science and education according to the Western model. If in 2016 it was, unfortunately, fashionable, today it is time to think about what we are doing.

Let’s move on to the letter from the OMN RAS (its copy is available in the editorial office). It says that, for good, it would be necessary not to give additional rights to award degrees to another hundred new universities, but, perhaps, to revoke these rights even from Moscow State University and St. Petersburg State University. “Such rights have drawn criticism from many scholars and educators. Suggestions were repeatedly made about the need to analyze the effectiveness of the decisions made and even cancel them. However, no analysis of innovations has been carried out,” reads the message signed by Academician-Secretary of the Department Valery Kozlov.

To understand the logic of the changes that the deputies and the government are so actively promoting, let’s turn to the speech of the Minister of Science and Higher Education Valery Falkov at a meeting of the Committee of Advisors of the Higher Attestation Commission under the Ministry of Education and Science of Russia on October 6 (the day before the signing of the law by the president). He said that changes in the certification system are due to “a sharply increasing need to scale up the training of young scientists, candidates and doctors of science in priority areas of science and technology.”

But let me, – they say in the DMS RAS, – this “scaling” does not imply an improvement in the system of personnel training. It only boils down to making it easier to get a degree. In particular, “one-time” scientific advice, which Falkov proposes to use in all universities in the country in the future, can lead to a corruption situation. Here, it is also appropriate to recall another recent simplification in the defense of scientific degrees: applicants for high scientific titles were exempted from the obligation to write the text of a dissertation – it is enough to provide a “set of scientific papers” or just read a report.

– Defense of a dissertation in the form of a report is admissible only in exceptional cases, – they say in the DMS. – In general, writing a dissertation as an integral scientific work forms a specialist and is proof of his scientific maturity.

Scientists believe that the real problem of personnel training is not the difficulty in protection, which officials so much want to simplify, but the insufficient prestige of the scientific profession, caused by underfunding of science and the lack of social guarantees for scientists.

Fearing the spread of “scaling” to educational and scientific institutions that still depend on the VAK, academicians from the DOM RAS call on the Presidium of the Academy of Sciences to apply to the government with a proposal “on organizing a system for training scientific personnel, taking into account our traditions and the position of the scientific community.” The final decision on the adoption of normative documents of the Higher Attestation Commission, changing the rules for awarding academic degrees, is scheduled for mid-December.

Published in the newspaper “Moskovsky Komsomolets” No. 28922 dated November 30, 2022

Newspaper headline:
And you, friends, no matter how you sit down, you are not suitable for candidates

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