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Science needs fund formula

China Daily | Updated: 2013-10-15 07:22

Fury is the word the minister of science and technology used on the weekend to describe his feelings about the rampant misappropriation of scientific research funds. We know why he was furious: how will the country catch up with developed counterparts in science and technology if funding for research remains a source of spending for non-research purposes?

Thirty-nine auditing reports show misappropriation of scientific research funds in the five years from 2007 to 2012 nationwide. The auditing reveals that research funds totaling 943 million yuan ($154 million) in 13 colleges in a province were listed as being spent on irrelevant commodities and services. The Ministry of Transport has used 186 million yuan from such funds as wages and subsidies for employees. Such funds have also been spent on purchasing vehicles, refurbishing offices and even banquets.

It was quite common for scientists to complain about the lack of money for scientific research a decade ago when the input in this sector was about 0.64 percent of the country's total gross domestic product. Input increased to 1,024 billion yuan, or 1.97 percent of GDP, in 2012.

The juxtaposition of an increase in research funds and increasingly rampant misuse of such money points to a lack of effective supervision over the use of the money. Some research institutions had not even the most rudimentary supervision over the use of these funds.

Another problem the misappropriation has revealed is the scientists' lack of devotion to research. After all, it would hardly be possible for committed researchers who are absorbed in their work to allow funding to be spent on anything else. A professor was even sent to jail for misappropriating research funds to purchase a house for his mistress.

The loose management of funds, if unchecked, will foster an environment that not just dampens researchers' zeal but also diminishes their work.

It is necessary for officials in charge to sit down and discuss the establishment of a secure and proper funding mechanism, which will ensure that scientific research funds can be allocated to the right researchers and then be spent truly on research.

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