Researchers Given More Say in Fund Use: State Council
By Li Linxu
At the State Council executive meeting at the end of July, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said a greater resolution should be made to respond to the common concerns of researchers and more efforts should be made to overhaul funding management rules that are not suitable for scientific research.
The meeting decided on a series of measures to further reform and improve management of central fiscal research funding, so as to give researchers more rights in fund use.
The measures include streamlining budget-making, increasing incentives for researchers, and speeding up fund payments. It also includes innovating fiscal funding support for research and employing professional financial assistants for research projects to ease the administrative burden on researchers.
"Currently, in the allocation of some research funding, the larger part is spent on equipment while the smaller part is spent on human cost," said Li, adding that some purely theoretical researches are mainly dependent on human effort, not on how many pieces of equipment are bought.
Li stressed that the proportion of indirect funding in research projects and the expenditure spent on human cost should be increased, and more discretion will be given to researchers in terms of the funding management.
More than 50 percent of research funding can be spent on human cost, the meeting decided. For some purely theoretical basic research projects such as mathematics, the proportion of indirect funding can be raised to 60 percent. Research institutes may spend all indirect funding on performance-based expenditures.
In addition, the scope of labor cost will be expanded, which will include social insurance subsidies and housing provident funds paid by research institutes.
"The income of researchers, particularly those doing basic research, should match the importance of their research fields," said Li.
The meeting decided that cash rewards for the commercialization of scientific and research findings will not be limited by the total amount of merit pay at the institute, and it will also not be used as a base for merit pay in the following year, so as to give more incentives to researchers.
The payments of research funding will be speeded up, the meeting stressed. The funding will be disbursed to the institutes concerned within 30 days of signing the project undertaking forms.
Moreover, international cooperation and exchange expenses listed in research funding will not be counted as spending on official overseas trips, official vehicles and official hospitality.
In order to streamline budget-making, the nine-plus budget items will be cut to three. The power to transfer budgetary funds under different items will also be delegated to the institutes undertaking research projects. Furthermore, the creation of ceilings in funding that enable the retention of unused funds will be promoted in basic research projects and talent-related programs.
"It is indeed difficult for scientists to do an accountant's work and figure out every item of financial expenses, " said Li, "Policy should serve scientists instead of making things difficult for them."
To reduce the administrative burdens on researchers, financial assistants should be equipped by the institute, the meeting suggested. Related labor costs can be covered by the funding or through other channels.
The meeting also called for innovative supporting methods in fiscal research funding. For example, in accordance with the priorities and scope of the country's agenda, lead scientists can determine research topics, build research teams and decide fund use at their own discretion.
"Time and tide wait for no man," said Li, "We should resolve to break barriers that constrain the creativity of researchers, and give more incentives for researches to do their work without distractions and do well in basic research, so as to provide a solid support to build a strong sci-tech country."