Despite more money, better trained talent and sophisticated equipment, China’s domestic innovation system is still underperforming and political will is needed if the country is to produce breakthroughs worthy of a Nobel Prize.
That’s the opinion of a team of experts led by The University of Nottingham whose policy forum article is published on Thursday 1 August 2013 in the prestigious academic journal Science.
Dr Cong Cao, from the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies, said: “Research and business sectors have been disconnected for decades, with few research results turned into innovative technology and products. With few exceptions, Chinese enterprises depend on foreign sources for core technologies.
“The leadership is fully aware of the problems and knows how to tackle them if it desires. But it is partially responsible for many of the problems and reform may not be in its best interest.”
The article, in collaboration with Dr Ning Li from the University of Guam and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Dr Xia Li from Shanghai Jiaotong University and Dr Li Liu from Tsinghua University, describes the interwoven roots of problems at the three key levels of decision making; from a lack of coordination at macro level; a malfunction of the funding system at the meso level; to flawed evaluations and incentives at micro level.
The research team argue that the Leading Group on Science, Technology and Education (LGSTE), which studies and reviews major S&T and education policies and programmes and coordinates important intergovernmental activities, is ad hoc in nature. Chaired by the premier, they say issues on science, innovation and education are probably less important than others in his portfolio. And the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) is weak in terms of importance and clout.
They highlight the lack of a uniform, national quality control standard and little exchange of information about research funded across different agencies leads to duplication. And say China’s research culture gives too much advantage to established researchers and those who maintain close relations with government officials, increasing research-funding inequality and concentration.
They also describe an overwhelming ‘publish-or-perish’ orientation that has become an inappropriate yardstick in the evaluation of research programs, institutions and scientists motivating them to publish for the sake of publications and grants rather than finding genuine solution to societal problems.
The solution, they say, would be to replace MOST with a new agency akin to the US Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and appoint a national science advisor under the State Council. Another resolution would be to maintain the current institutional setting of the LGSTE and the MOST while creating a smaller Office of Science and Technology (OST) directly under the State Council, similar to the US OSTP.
Dr Cao said: “It remains to be seen whether coordination of China’s S&T could be resolved without institutional change. Challenges in governance of China’s S&T system have existed for so long and the inertia to maintain status quo is so strong. It is time for leadership to show political will.”
As one of the leading scholars in the studies of China’s science, technology, and innovation, Dr Cao is the author of China’s Scientific Elite (London and New York: RoutledgeCurzon, 2004), a study of those Chinese scientists holding the elite membership in the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and China's Emerging Technological Edge: Assessing the Role of High-End Talent (with Denis Fred Simon, Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009), the first in 40 years to address these critical issues surrounding the quality, quantity, and effective utilization of China’s human resources in science and technology.
For a copy of the full article, Title: Reforming China’s S&T System
Manuscript Number: science.1234206, please contact Dr Cong Cao, +44 (0)115 846 7948, firstname.lastname@example.org
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