CHINA> Regional
Science foundation invites experts to review projects 
(China Daily)
Updated: 2008-07-04 08:38

China's prestigious science foundation plans to invite leading scientists from around the world to evaluate its research projects.

Chen Yiyu, chairman of the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC), was quoted on Thursday by the People's Daily as saying: "We'll invite the world's leading scientists in various disciplines to judge the merits of the programs we have sponsored.

"The international think tank for performance evaluation will be formed as early as 2010."

China set up the NSFC in 1986. It was widely rated as having research funding policies similar to those in industrialized countries.

The major difference between the NSFC and other Chinese funding channels is that the NSFC base its granting of funds on transparent and independent reviews by outside scientists, while the others make decisions at closed-door meetings. The NSFC also uses public money to invest in research. It focuses on cutting-edge technologies.

Chen said the NSFC will grant 6.4 billion yuan ($928 million) this fiscal year, an annual increase of 28 percent. The biggest grants will go to pioneering research programs - nearly 4.4 billion yuan. Grants to other projects will average about 1.85 million yuan each.

China spent a record 366.4 billion yuan on science research and development in the last fiscal year, or almost 1.5 percent of GDP.

Although noted for its transparency and professional management, the NSFC is only allocated a tiny portion of the country's total R&D funding.

The much bigger players are the Ministry of Science and Technology, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health, the military and universities.

Many people have criticized the current funding mechanism for squandering public money by paying excessive salaries and benefits to researchers and giving rise to cheats who win big grants.

One notorious case in 2006 involved the dean of Shanghai's Jiaotong University who doctored computer chips to justify tens of millions of yuan in research funds from the Ministry of Science and Technology. He was later sacked.