On 20 October, the Chinese government announced the passage of a reform plan that will fundamentally reshape research in the country.
By 2017, the main competitive government funding initiatives will be eliminated. This includes the ‘863’ and ‘973’ programmes, two channels for large grants that have been at the heart of modern China’s development of science and technology infrastructure since being established in 1986 and 1997, respectively.The government announcement noted that wastefulness and fragmented management has led to overlaps and inefficient use of funds for science and technology, and the need for a unified platform for distributing grants. As new funding programmes have been added over the years, competitive funding has become divided among some 100 competitive schemes overseen by about 30 different governmental departments.
Although efforts to reorganize science in China are already underway, the latest reform will be comprehensive. Science and technology spending by the central government was 77.4 billion yuan renminbi (US$12.6 billion) in 2006 but jumped to 236 billion yuan renminbi in 2013, 11.6% of the central government’s direct public expenditure. Some 60% of this is competitive funding, and subject to change under under the new reforms. To maintain stability, the overhaul will not affect the remaining 40%, which covers operation costs for research institutes and key state laboratories.
The new plan, jointly drafted by the ministries of science and technology and the ministry of finance, will reorganize competitive funding into five new channels: the National Natural Science Foundation (which currently distributes many of the small-scale competitive grants); national science and technology major projects; key national research and development programmes; a special fund to guide technological innovation; and special projects for developing human resources and infrastructure. These five will be managed under a new science and technology agency that will unify planning and assessment of scientific projects.