Sunday, 6 November 2011

Research funding misused

Scientific research funding has become a major source of income for mainland academics, with as little as 40 per cent of the money being spent on research, mainland media say.

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Guanyu 道 said...

Research funding misused

Minnie Chan
06 November 2011

Scientific research funding has become a major source of income for mainland academics, with as little as 40 per cent of the money being spent on research, mainland media say.

Professors at mainland universities, after seeing their salaries fail to keep pace with the soaring inflation of the past decade, have become “public relations officers” or even “salesmen” to solicit research projects and funding from government agencies, according to separate reports by the Beijing-based Economic Observer and the China Youth Daily yesterday.

Some lecturers’ monthly salaries were just 3,000 yuan (HK$3,700), the reports said. Assistant professors earned nearly 4,000 yuan, and professors about 5,000 yuan.

Research centres focusing on high-profile areas of study that fit the central government’s policy programmes could obtain millions of yuan in funding for each research project, the newspapers said.

But only 40 per cent of the money was used for research, while the rest was used for “professional fees” and kickbacks, The Economic Observer said, citing a study by the China Association for Science and Technology.

Some institutes would collude with accounting firms to cook the books, including exaggerating the cost of equipment, buying cars and property ostensibly for use in research, injecting funds into companies set up privately, or paying for other perks like overseas study trips.

An anonymous researcher from a subsidiary of the Chinese Academy of Social Science was cited by the Observer as saying that some researchers resorted to bribing other academics to provide peer reviews. In some cases, favourable reviews were exchanged for prostitutes, paid for by the money, the report said.

The newspaper said the prosecutor’s office in Beijing’s Haidian district, where key universities are based, had found 17 cases of academic corruption in the past eight years. Some 21 researchers and academics were charged; one received a 12-year prison sentence for taking more than 710,000 yuan of public funds.

China Youth Daily reported that some professors who could easily get funding had subcontracted their projects to doctoral students.

“It’s a vicious circle ... The quality of research has decreased year after year as almost all the jobs were done by students,” said Hu Xingdou, an economics professor with the Beijing Institute of Technology. Hu blames the wave of academic corruption on the lack of independent oversight for scientific projects.