Plenum ushers in culture of science
Science and technology reform has drawn a lot of attention in the Decisions on Major Issues Concerning Comprehensively Deepening Reforms, issued by the Third Plenary Session of the 18th Communist Party of China Central Committee on Nov 15.
In fact, China has been making great efforts to reform its science and technology sector for the past more than three decades. In 1985, China implemented reforms in colleges and institutions of higher learning to support science and technology development. As a result, the country has made some great achievements in science and technology.
But some deep-seated problems continue to plague China’s science and technology management system, which can be solved only by opening the path to innovation. The plenum document hits the nail on the head by “combining science and technology research with the economy”. This approach has helped eliminate some outdated systems obstructing the development of science and technology over the past almost three decades. The plenum document advocates the same approach to build a system that suits China’s real situation and will help transform it into an innovative country.
By far the most important element in the document is the emphasis on “the market’s decisive role” in technological innovation. The document clearly states that the market should guide technology innovation, including program selection, cost control and other resources that are key to achieving success.
In other words, the market will decide where funds would be invested, which programs would get support and how their achievements should be rewarded. Following that principle, enterprises will be encouraged to support technology innovation, with both large and small enterprises playing their advantageous roles to the full. The technology market will be improved to regulate the transfer of technology, which is essential for small and mediumsized enterprises to raise funds. And even the financial market will change — venture capital investment would be encouraged to support emerging high-tech enterprises.
The plenum document raises the possibility of setting up intellectual property rights courts, as well as expediting the process of passing comprehensive legislation on the subject to help China’s science and technology sector to better meet the demands of modern market economy.
Once the market gets to play its proper role, it would reduce to the minimum authorities’ intervention and eliminate the division of interests in the science and technology sector. At present, many agencies and authorities have control over the resources needed to support the development of the science and technology sector. And since each has its own interest, they tend to differ on some issues and thus harm the development of the sector.
Worse, some research scholars have to bribe officials to get the needed funds. Responding to a recent China Academy of Science survey, about 60 percent of science researchers said vested interests have hindered cooperation and nurtured corruption. The plenum document aims to solve this problem by gradually ending the gradation system for research institutes by government agencies, depriving officials of wielding the decisive power in allocating funds. When scientists and research scholars have a bigger say in the distribution of resources, officials will get fewer opportunities to seek favors.
Self-governance of scientists, too, will be promoted. The procedure of promoting selected top scientists and awarding them honorary titles has always been criticized for not being transparent and fair given the role some powerful figures play in the decisions. The document says an exit mechanism for academics will be introduced, and younger and promising scientists will get more support to make the system more transparent.
By introducing these bold, market-oriented reforms, the plenum has also emphasized the government’s role in supporting basic research, which might not bring much immediate returns but would be of immense importance in the long run.
The blueprint for China’s science and technology management system is thus clear: a free, regulated market will mobilize resources for programs that can directly stimulate economic development, while the government will support basic research, and both will play important roles in transforming China into an innovative country.
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