Research Policy and Policy Related to Innovations & R&D Commercialization

Current Issues. The regional specifics and challenges of Astrakhan Region (issued faced by the Caspian macroregion and by Astrakhan Region as a frontier geostrategic area of Russia[1]) have determined the key research fields for ASU: research of unique biological diversity and ecology of this region, sturgeon breeding and aqua culture[2]; new technologies for the agricultural industrial sector; robotics for shipbuilding[3]; assessment and development of unique fields of natural gas, gas condensate, and sulfur; complex security and geopolitics of the Caspian macroregion[4]. Fundamental science is developing at ASU (over 30 fields), first and foremost: Physics and Material Science, Chemistry of Hydrocarbons, computer modeling, Humanities and social sciences, Biology, Biomedicine and Gerontology. Six research schools[5] operate at ASU. Researchers of ASU perform their activities in accordance with the Strategy of Social and Economic Development of Astrakhan Region[6]. The leading research fields in the number of publications in Scopus and Web of Science journals are as follows: Physics, Engineering, and Robotics – 363 articles; Chemistry – 124 articles; Ecology and Earth-related sciences – 103 articles; complex security (Humanities, culture, multidisciplinary research) – 103 articles; Biology, Genetics, and Biomedicine – 103 articles; agriculture – 58 articles; Economics, transport, and logistics – 32 articles. ASU research activities aim to integrate into international collaborations to resolve issues that the Caspian macroregion is facing: ASU is responsible for activities of the Commission for Science, Research and Technology at the Association of Universities and Research Centers of the Caspian Region States. In 2020, ASU joined the Caspian Hub on Sustainable Development Goals established by Atyrau Oil and Gas University named after S. Utebayev (Kazakhstan)[7]. ASU is integrated into the Russian research network with the key centers of competencies; based on its cooperation with its partners, research laboratories operate to tackle the regional tasks and comply with Russia’s national priorities (See Table 1 of Appendix).

The result of ASU research activities is 752 units of its nonmaterial assets (as for December 31, 2020), including 75 inventions and useful models. The total balance value of objects of intellectual activities is 6.49 m RUR, including the book value of inventions and useful models – 1.3 m RUR. The number of staff members and students applying for registration of their rights for intellectual property is growing (from 45 staff members and 9 students in 2017 to 70 staff members and 42 students in 2021). Over the last 2 years, the number of ASU students involved in project activities has increased as well[8]. A first-level Technology and Innovation Support Center operates at ASU. In 2021, ASU has also joined the National Association of Technology Transfer. ASU has signed over 120 direct agreements of cooperation with a number of enterprises both in Astrakhan Region and outside it. It cooperates with 18 consortiums[9]. ASU has assumed the 98th position in the National Ranking of Universities in the nomination “Innovations”[10].

At the same time, there are considerable issues and risks: 1) the dynamics of average annual funding of research per professor is not stable; it depends mainly on federal programs and funds (See Fig. 1 of Appendix). The main share of income from research activities tends to relate to contractual agreements; however, this field should be increased[11]. 2) Analysis of attracted income over 2010-2020 demonstrates prevalence of research activities in the field of Humanities related to geopolitics and complex security of the Caspian region (418,960,200 RUR of attracted funds or 53 %), in the field of natural sciences and agriculture (243,247,400 RUR or 36 %), in the field of technology and applied sciences (49,505,500 RUR or 11%) (See Fig. 2 of Appendix). Only 10 % of faculty staff members have been involved in research funded by grants.

The results of publication activities have been demonstrating sustainable growth over the last decade. The total amount of Web of Science and Scopus publications has increased fivefold at ASU over this decade. If compared with other universities of South Russia, ASU rates are average[12]; yet, there is a real sustainable growth potential.

Issues & Restrictions. ASU research activities have a number of different strategies, which results in irregular growth in particular rates and in high susceptibility to external factors. The internal restrictions of ASU research include: 1) insufficient involvement of its faculty staff (90 %) in research; reduction in grant funding for regional universities; closure of research funds; 2) publication activity of ASU staff in foreign journals (WoS and Scopus) is rather low; 3) commercialization of intellectual property is run inefficiently; 4) there is no interdisciplinary interaction between different research schools and fields; 5) the system of faculty stimulation for research results is not efficient.

The external restrictions for development of ASU research activities are as follows: underdeveloped digital economy in Astrakhan Region; orientation at the agrarian and industrial technological sectors (1); there is no clear correlation between activities of the productive research centers and schools of ASU and the needs of Astrakhan Region (2); an unstable demographic situation in Astrakhan Region (3); inefficient interuniversity integration (4).

These challenges imply meeting the following goals: inclusion of ASU into research educational and innovative networks; formation of a single integration environment with its strategic partners that contributes to overcoming of resource limits, provision of a large number of search activities aimed to contribute to diversification of the regional economy by establishing new “points of growth” – technological sectors; concentration of the resource potential of ASU and its partners at the research frontier. Achievement of leading positions in R&D, generation of new knowledge, and creation of competitive intellectual products will make it possible to break through in the top-priority fields[13] and become a real leader in innovations in the Caspian region.

Based on analyzing the best practices and selecting universities for benchmarking (See Appendix), ASU has developed the following tasks and goals: the research policy of ASU, which is traditionally aimed at achievement of KPI in obtainment of research income and increased publication activities, will be supplemented with a number of entirely new tasks related to realization of strategic projects: 1) Development of research teams to resolve fundamental and applied tasks as part of interdisciplinary cooperation, attracting the faculty staff and students to cooperate closely with business partners (there is a social elevator program and students socialization mechanisms at ASU); 2) Provision of the right conditions to develop and keep talented young researchers at ASU and in Astrakhan Region based on the system of internal grants and scholarships (the Top 5 Program for future Doctors of Sciences); 3) Establishment of new centers of competencies related to strategic projects; 4) Creation of an efficient convergent system of management of research and innovations (See Fig. 3 of Appendix) to implement strategic projects.

The key directions of ASU research policy are as follows:

  • “Program – 5 Priorities” – top priority of five strategically important fields of development of ASU research activities: Marine Robotics; Transport & Logistic Facilities of the Caspian Region; Complex Security of the Caspian Macroregion; Ecology & Biological Resources of the Caspian Region; Agriculture. The expected result is integration of ASU research activities in Astrakhan Region’s economy; increase in the share of ASU incomes from the real sector of economy from 48 % to 60 %; creation of a network innovative space in Astrakhan Region, with ASU participating in it actively (See “Program – 5 Priorities” in Appendix).
  • Establishment of a staff growth research system in the following fields: upgrading the university research facilities; implementation of new mechanisms to stimulate efficiency of research (internal grants for young researchers, financial support of the regional research fields); obligatory involvement of young researchers (under 39 y. o.) in all the research activities to share skills between older and younger generations of researchers; development of competencies of promising students and young researchers in Academic Writing, English, Project Management, and Commercialization (at least 200 people annually).
  • Youth innovative entrepreneurship: improved environment of accelerated development of young people aged 18 to 24 in the field of natural sciences, technology, and ICT (with the autonomous not-for-profit organization “Russia – Country of Opportunities” providing methodological support; creation of a regional center of competencies assessment); development of facilities of the ASU youth innovative cluster (the Technopark, laboratories, and research centers); implementation of regional acceleration programs, arrangement of hackathons and contests in particular fields of innovations; participation of talented students in innovation-related events of the national and international level (Startup Village, Open Innovations, SLUSH); integration of activities of the ASU youth innovative cluster in the agenda of the Caspian Region Technology Transfer Network; arrangement of the Caspian Startup Event on an annual basis; organization of the #I Wish to Get a Patent acceleration program (this is an interregional event arranged jointly by Astrakhan Region, Kalmykia, and Dagestan). The expected result (KPI) is an increased number of students involved in innovative activities from 18.3 % (2021) to 60 % by 2030.
  • Digital transformation of research activities: establishment of a single digital space to systemize and manage research data and results; relaunch of the existing digital platform (; digitalization of research products promotion (Web presentations of projects to disseminate knowledge and select customers); creation of a single digital platform of big data related to the Caspian Region with a “heat map” to assess potential threats to sustainability and national security; creation of mirror IT Labs at universities that are our partners for research and analyses of macroprocesses (4). The expected result (KPI) is a 3.5-time growth in publication rates based on access to big data and digital modeling.
  • Network marketing to integrate science, innovations, and the market: integration and interaction between research schools, centers, and laboratories of the universities that participate in the Consortium for end-to-end projects; financial stimulation of interdisciplinary projects; involvement of the regional business elite in ASU activities; formation of a system of companies founded by ASU students and graduates around our University; making our research and educational activities more practically-oriented (“Startup as a Diploma Project”); creation of a special online site to promote products of startups launched at ASU; development of ASU innovative facilities (launch of a new engineering center and startup studio, etc.), scaling of acceleration programs to be implemented in cooperation with development institutes and legal authorities, technological companies and financial institutions; realization of educational programs to train innovation managers – qualified specialists in the field of intellectual property administration. The expected result (KPI) is an increased value of ASU nonmaterial assets from 6.5 m RUR to 50 m RUR by 2030.

[1] The Russian Federation’s Spatial Development Strategy up to 2025 – approved by the Government of the Russian Federation #207-r of Feb. 13, 2019.

[2] Astrakhan Region holds the 6th position in Russia and the 3rd position in the Russian South in production of objects of marketable aqua culture; it holds the 1st position in the number and species diversity of sturgeons, as well as in vegetables; it holds the 2nd position in the Russian South in the growth rate of the gross agricultural product; 40 % of Astrakhan Region’s population are employed in the agricultural sector.

[3] Approximately 60 % of all the shipbuilding and ship-repairing facilities of the Caspian macroregion are located in Astrakhan Region.

[4] Astrakhan Region is home for 150 ethnic communities and 14 religious confessions. It is a cultural frontier and (at the same time) an area of increased geopolitical risks; it is Russia’s southern outpost.

[5] 1) Role of free-radical processes and antioxidant protection in regulation of functional systems that provide an organism’s homeostasis in its ontogenesis under influence of extreme factors. 2) Research of correlation between magnetic microstructure, defectiveness, electronic ionic disordering, and properties of ferromagnetic environments. 3) Cultural security of the frontier of the Russian South and the Caspian macroregion. 4) Theoretical fundamentals and technique to implement the principle of practice-oriented teaching Physics. 5) Poetics of the Russian literature of the 20th century. 6) Political institutes, processes, and technologies. Political issues of international relations of global and regional development.

[6] Transport logistics and digital technologies for the port zone; production of ecologically clean products, its recycling to reduce life risks and the anthropogenic load upon the environment; ecological diagnostics and assessment of areas; research of parameters of life quality and regional sustainable development; monitoring of social, economic, and demographic, migration changes.

[7] We are planning to establish a network university to integrate into the research and educational space.

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[9] For instance, in the field of shipbuilding it aims to establish engineering classes at secondary schools, arrange hackathons, retrain staff to meet the needs of the local industry, etc.

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[11] In the 2020 research income structure, grants have made up 26 %, contractual agreements – 48.7 %, and other sources of income – 25.3 %.

[12] ASU takes the 5th position in the number of WoS and Scopus papers per professor; its 2020 rate is 0.15 – after Volgograd State University (0.58), Southern Federal University (0.42), and Kuban State University (0.18).

[13] Engineering and Robotics, Ecology and Biomedicine, digitalization of the agricultural sector, transport logistics, and complex security of the Caspian Region.