Streamlining the research process for greater innovation

Source:Chinese Social Sciences Today 2022-12-29

In August 2022, five ministries in China, including the Ministry of Science and Technology and the Ministry of Finance, issued the Notice on Special Actions to Reduce the Burden on Young Researchers. This marked the official launch of “Burden-easing Action 3.0.” These ministries had previously issued Action 1.0 and Action 2.0, in 2018 and 2020 respectively, which focused on the problems that overburden young researchers, such as excessive application forms and complicated expense claim sheets to fill in, as well as frequent inspections. Aside from this, the notice also aims to solve many other obtrusive problems that young researchers face, such as limited opportunities for acknowledgement, narrow channels for promotion, and frequent assessments and evaluations.

But easing the burden of research is not the ultimate goal of the actions. Instead, they are originally intended to accelerate the pace of innovation. As the new round of scientific and technological revolution and industrial transformation begins, innovation is playing an unprecedented role in economic and social development. To expedite scientific and technological innovation, researchers still need to take initiative, but under a lighter research load.

According to the Research Report on the Development of China’s Human Resources in Science and Technology Field (2020), by the end of 2020, the human resource total in this field amounted to 11.3441 million, of which, three quarters were under age 40. Young researchers have become the mainstay and vanguard in this field.

At the peak of their innovation and creativity, young researchers are at a crucial stage in their careers. At the same time, their career paths have just begun, achieving clear breakthroughs in research is still challenging. In this sense, if their performance is evaluated using the same platform, index, and by adopting the same means, it would be nearly impossible to quantify innovative abilities and contribution shares.

The recent “Burden-easing Action 3.0” notice focused on the real concerns and worries of young researchers. It proposed some feasible and practical reform measures, such as avoiding the use of one’s published materials only as an evaluation benchmark, and not to assigning general administrative affairs to young researchers.

Words and deeds both count. To ease the burden of scientific research, implementation is key. In addition to focusing on how to “reduce the burden,” we should also think about where the burden comes from. Easing the scientific research burden is not an isolated issue, but a systematic issue that demands structural adjustments. It is not only about process management in research, but also about the optimization of institutional systems and mechanisms, and about changes in mentality and cognition. In essence, the burden is a restraint woven from the intertwined logic of “rights, responsibilities and interests” of government departments, research institutions, and researchers.

Therefore, easing the burden needs to address both symptoms and root causes. First, we need to strengthen the common values shared by government departments, research institutions, and researchers and bridge the trust gap between them. Second, we should improve the evaluation system for the integrity of scientific research and avoid direct interference from administrative powers to allow professionals to do their work. Third, we need to create a strong social atmosphere in which science is respected, admired, and understood, so that more people can truly understand the multi-dimensional values conveyed by researchers.


Meng Fanrong and Zhang Runqiang are from the School of Public Policy and Administration at Xi’an Jiaotong University.

Editor:Yu Hui

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