Plenum ush­ers in cul­ture of sci­ence

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - COMMENT - LIU FENG The au­thor is di­rec­tor of the In­sti­tute of In­dus­trial Tech­nol­ogy De­vel­op­ment, Chi­nese Academy of Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy for De­vel­op­ment, af­fil­i­ated to the Min­istry of Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy.

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.

The opin­ions ex­pressed on this page do not nec­es­sar­ily re­flect those of China Daily.

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