China's research-award system needs reform if it is to encourage future advances in science and technology. We believe that a move away from current government schemes — which mainly recognize large technological projects — towards non-governmental awards for individual researchers would boost academic competition and be more effective in the long term.
Non-governmental award schemes in China do not carry the same prestige as they do in Western countries. The Chinese government gives national prizes every year to about 280 research projects and six individual researchers, on average, and regional prizes to a further 3,000 projects. Scientific societies, which are mostly affiliated with the government and led by retired government officials, offer annual prizes for some 10,000 projects. Most of these awards are intended to motivate technological invention and application. Less than 5% of prizes are bestowed for research in the natural sciences.
In our view, the Chinese government should deregulate awards related to technological inventions and applications and allow the prizes to be determined by the market. China's scientific societies also need reform to give them more authority and greater autonomy, so that their research awards can focus on academic achievements and be more influential.