Science and Innovation: Modernization instead of innovation?

Andrei Lavrukhin

Summary

The relative improvement of the position of Belarus in the Global Innovation Index 2019 gives grounds for cautious optimism. However, the problem of underfunding of science and innovation is maintained. The self-isolation of the Belarusian scientific community from the global flow of scientific publications is getting worse, and the “invisibility” of Belarusian scientists’ publications on economic, social and humanitarian sciences remains. Attempts to mask the shocking reality of scientific and innovative development of Belarus with dubious and irrelevant gross indicators of socio-economic modernization only worsen the situation. When the mobilization model is exhausted, manipulations with statistical data become the dominant strategy for creating the appearance of innovative development of the country.

Trends:
State funding for science: 4 times lower than the dangerously low level

According to official data, as of the beginning of 2019, expenditures on research and development in relation to GDP increased by 0.3% compared to the beginning of 2018 and reached the value of 0.61%. This consolidated the positive changes in the negative trend of recent years, but still it is far from the standards of developed countries (2% or higher) and below the domestic indicators of previous years.1

Against this background a much faster pace continues to reduce the share of governmental spending, which, as before, is not compensated by funding from other sources (own funds, resources from non-budgetary funds, foreign investors, other organizations, etc.). Moreover, according to the Chairman of the State Committee for Science and Technology A. Shumilin, in 2019, in comparison with 2018, “the reduction of the share of budget funding is provided in programs by 0.8 percentage points”.2

Taking into account that, as of the beginning of 2019, the share of public sector spending on R&D was 0.19% of GDP, this “ensuring reduction” sets a frightening anti-record in the history of state funding of science in Belarus. For comparison, according to the European innovation report 2019, the share of governmental spending on research and development at 0.68% (to GDP) by the end of 2018 caused great concern of all international experts, since this “poses a threat to the financing of basic research and the stability of research institutions” in EU countries.3 In Belarus, this indicator is 4 times lower.

If we take into account the structure of internal current expenditures on research and development (by type of work and areas of science, in % of total expenditures), the most distressed are the Humanities (1.1%), socio-economic and social (3.7%), medical (4.3%) and agricultural (4.7%) sciences.4

Publication activity: isolation of economists, veterinarians and social humanitarians

The problem with the publication activity of Belarusian scientists and the presence of scientific institutions in international databases, especially the largest and most famous ones – Scopus and Web of Science, is still relevant.

Out of 52 Belarusian universities, only 22 and 26 organizations have their profiles on these resources respectively. Subscription to Scopus is available to seven leading universities and two research libraries of Belarus – the Belarusian State University, the Belarusian National Technical University, Hrodna State University, Belarusian State Medical University, Hrodna State Medical University, Homiel State Medical University, Viciebsk State Medical University, the Central Scientific Library of the NAS, and the Belarusian Agricultural Library. Only five institutions are subscribed to Web of Science. At the same time, two-thirds of publications are made by employees of two institutions: the Belarusian State University (35% of the total number of publications of Belarusian scientists in the Scopus database)5 and the National Academy of Sciences (34%).

Such low involvement in the global exchange of scientific publications indicates the systemic and infrastructural nature of the problem. In this regard, the share of journals included in the list of the Higher Attestation Commission (HAC) of Belarus that are simultaneously included in the Scopus database is indicative – 2%, or 6 journals out of 306. In Russia, for example, the same indicator was 24% (551 journals), in Ukraine – 4% (73 journals).6 The numbers are modest and require action.

An egregious situation developed with publications on economic sciences: out of 54 economic journals of the HAC not a single one is included in Scopus (not to mention Web of Science). In the region, the share of Belarus in economic publications decreased from 0.4% in 2001 to 0.2% in 2016. For comparison, the share of Lithuania increased from 0.8% in 1996 to 4.0% in 2016. According to the SJR Portal, in 1996–2016 Belarusian economic scientists published 44 scientific articles in Scopus journals, or 5 articles annually per 1 million inhabitants. This is the worst indicator in the region, the best one is in Lithuania: 1347 articles, or 476 articles annually per 1 million inhabitants, which is almost 100 times more than in Belarus.7

As of the end of 2018 – beginning of 2019, the country’s Hirsch index for publications of scientists-economists of Belarus was 9 points: it is the 21st place among 24 countries of Eastern Europe (for comparison: the Russian Federation takes the 1st place, Ukraine – the 4th, Lithuania – the 9th, Georgia – the 18th, Azerbaijan – the 20th place) and the 113th place in all 218 countries in the world.

Out of all scientific fields presented on SJR Portal resource, the situation with publications of Belarusian scientists is worse only in veterinary medicine, where the Hirsch-index is 15 points (the 19th place in the region and the 134th in the world). The series of the Belarusian scientists invisible for the rest of the world is completed by representatives of the social sciences with the Hirsch index of 20 points (the 20th place in the region and the 110th place in the world), Arts and Humanities with the index of 20 (the 20th place in the region, the 98th in the world), psychology with the index of 14 (the 17th and the 94th places, respectively) and agronomic and biological sciences with the index of 51 (the 15th and the 99th places, respectively).

The leading positions, as before, are taken by representatives of physics and astronomy with Hirsch index of 130 points (the 9th and the 47th places, respectively). In other areas of science, Belarus looks “average”: chemistry – 92 points (the 12th and the 54th places), mathematics – 57 (the 12th and the 58th), computer science – 43 (the 14th and the 63rd), biochemistry, genetics and molecular biology – 87 (the 14th and the 66th), neuroscience – 21 (the 16th and the 83rd), pharmacology, toxicology and pharmacy – 39 (the 14th and the 84th), medicine – 100 points (the 16th and the 92nd places, respectively).8

Innovative development of Belarus in the context of the GII-2019 and EIS-2019 indicators

In the Global Innovation Index 2019 (GII 2019), Belarus has significantly improved its position, rising from the 88th place in 2017 to the 72nd place in 2019. This is the best indicator for the last four years, although it is lower than the record 53rd place in 2015 in the entire history of Belarus’ ranking in the GII (since 2012; see Table 1).

  2019 2018 2017 2015 2012
Global innovation index
Index value∗ 32.07 29.35 30.00 38.50 32.90
Place in the world 72 86 88 53 78
Input rank 50 60 63 55 80
Institutions
Index value 57.7 55.5 54.1 53.2 41.5
Place in the world 83 81 81 94 109
Human capital & research
Index value 41.6 41.9 41.9 43.0 42.7
Place in the world 39 34 36 32 45
Infrastructure
Index value 48.2 42.2 46.1 42.0 34.5
Place in the world 60 73 67 60 66
Market sophistication
Index value 50.0 42.5 41.9 56.1 36.9
Place in the world 56 91 90 32 75
Business sophistication
Index value 32.6 33.0 32.2 30.3 33.1
Place in the world 56 53 65 94 105
Output rank 95 110 109 58 75
Knowledge & technology outputs
Index value 25.5 21.7 21.7 37.1 34.5
Place in the world 51 65 61 32 44
Creative outputs
Index value 10.8 9.7 11.7 26.0 21.8
Place in the world 126 122 123 94 117
Table 1. Global Innovation Index Data
Note: * Index values range from 0 (minimum) to 100 (maximum).
Source: The Global Innovation Index 2012, 2015, 2017, 2018, 2019..9

For the first time in many years, the growth in the rating was primarily due to a significant improvement in indicators for the parameter traditionally weak for Belarus, viz. “exit indicators” (“results of using knowledge and technology” and “creative results”), which measures the effectiveness of implementing the country’s innovative potential. Belarus moved up in this parameter from the 110th to the 95th place. Data on the indicator “results of using knowledge and technology” played a crucial role in the improvement: an increase of 14 points compared to 2018 (from the 65th to the 51st place). However, as one can see from the table, the data for this parameter does not reach 2015 (the 32nd place) and even 2012 (the 44th place).

The value of the Belarus index (32.07) is lower than the median (33.86) for all countries.10 It is significant that the "creative results" indicator significantly worsened and has actually reached the ‘bottom’: the 126th place out of 130 possible.

A more detailed analysis of the improvement parameters gives grounds only for cautious optimism: at the level of sub-indicators, positive statistics were provided by data on the parameter “influence of knowledge” (an increase by 48 points) and “diffusion of knowledge” (an increase by 18 points). The lion's share of growth within the two sub-indicators mentioned above was made up of data on the parameter “GDP growth by PPP per employee” (an increase by 60 points) and the parameter “ISO 9001 quality certification, USD billion GDP by PPP” (an increase by 96 points). For the rest of the parameters, the situation has changed insignificantly for the better, and for most of the most important parameters, it has even worsened.

Experts of the European Innovation Scoreboard 2019 (EIS 2019) note as a positive point the increase in the number of indicators (from 15 in 2018 to 18 in 2019) for which Belarus provides data, which is nevertheless lower than the minimum threshold of 20 indicators adopted in the European Union. However, data on the available 18 indicators allow experts to suggest that Belarus could enter the top league of the group of countries called “modest innovators”.11

International experts note that the data of the GII and EIS are not, of course, “the last resort”: both the methodological approaches of the GII and EIS as a whole,12 and the position of individual countries in the ranking are criticized. However, despite the inherent disadvantages of all rating approaches, they serve as an important benchmarking mechanism that allows identifying the dynamics of the weak and strong sides of national innovation systems and promoting the dissemination of best practices in the country.

Innovative development in the context of meeting the SPID targets 2016–2020

According to the State Committee for Science and Technologies (SCST),13 a summary of the targets of innovation development identified in the State program of innovative development of the 2016–2020 (SPID), at the end of 2019 exceeded in the following indicators: “the share of exports of high-tech products in total exports” (more than 35% at task of 32.5%), “creating high-performance workplaces” (by 826 items more than planned), “the volume of production by residents of technoparks” (BYN 148 million at the plan of 58.9 million), “export of services in the field of payment for the use of intellectual property” (the growth rate to the level of 2018 should be 152%), “the number of agreements on the transfer of rights to industrial property” (by 13% more than in 2018), “the growth rate of registered franchising agreements” (more than 117% by 2018).

Launching of eleven SPID projects was completed. Within the framework of scientific and technical programs, 580 R&D tasks were performed. The largest number of tasks is in the programs of the Ministry of Health (232 tasks), the Academy of Sciences (145 tasks), the Ministry of Industry (83 tasks) and the Ministry of Education (42 tasks).

In general, the SCST 2019 report reflects the quantitative (gross) indicators of economic modernization and socio-economic development rather than the qualitative level of science and innovation development.

The increasing uncertainty of the achieved results was the result of the fact that the most important integrative indicator “knowledge intensity of GDP”, which was adopted as the basis for the analysis of innovative development in the EU and the world, ‘disappeared’ from the SPID 2016–2020. Experts believe that the disappearance is due to a catastrophic discrepancy between the plans and reality of innovative development in Belarus. It was assumed that the “knowledge intensity of GDP” should reach at least 2.5% by 2020, but in fact in recent years this indicator has not risen above 0.5%.14 In this connection, instead of the integrative indicator “knowledge intensity of GDP”, a new indicator of economic modernization was introduced – “the number of jobs created (modernized)”.

Conclusion

In the absence of the integrative indicator “knowledge intensity of GDP”, removed from the SPID 2016–2020, it is becoming increasingly difficult to objectively assess the quality and scale of the country's innovative development. The new indicator of economic modernization – “the number of jobs created (modernized)” – is less defined, is not relevant to international standards, and reflects more the gross indicators of the country’s socio-economic modernization than innovative development. This circumstance makes it difficult to diagnose the actual state of affairs in the field of science.

Underfunding of science from the state budget of Belarus is 4 times higher than the lowest indicators of the EU countries. As the crisis-induced distortions in the economy increase, this trend will continue.

The relative improvement of Belarus’ position in the international GII 2019 rating allows hoping for attracting foreign capital to the innovation system of Belarus, although it hardly would be of a significant amount.