NSFC at a Glance
The National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) was established on February 14, 1986. Upon its establishment, NSFC was an institution directly under the jurisdiction of the State Council, tasked with the administration of the National Natural Science Fund from the Central Government. In 2018, it become managed by the Ministry of Science and Technology（MOST） but kept its due independence in operation.
Since its establishment, NSFC has comprehensively introduced and implemented a rigorous and objective merit-review system to fulfill its mission of supporting basic research, fostering talented researchers, developing international cooperation and promoting socioeconomic development.
The administrative system has been well developed and improved for the decision-making of the funding policy, the implementation of funding programs and the supervision of funding operation. The management system of project implementation and a complete set of regulations have been formulated.
It has gradually established its funding system focusing on the three categories of programs those include research promotion, talent fostering and infrastructure construction for basic research.
Along with the continuously increasing investment in basic research by the government, NSFC’s annual budget has increased from 80 million RMB in 1986 to 31.11 billion RMB in 2019. 44,504 new awards were granted to over 1500 host institutions in 2018, and most of these awards went to individuals or groups of investigators. Others provide funding for instruments and facilities that allow scientists to work at the outermost frontiers of knowledge.
NSFC encourages international cooperation and exchange in basic research. It has signed 93 Cooperative Agreements or MoUs with partners in 49 countries and regions.
In recent years, the world is witnessing a new round of technological revolution and profound shifts in the research paradigm of global science. Meanwhile, transdisciplinary and convergent research are playing a leading role in the development of science and technology, while the national demands for meeting global challenges and advancing original innovation are more pressing than ever before. With the increasing expectation and support of the Chinese government, basic research has ushered in a new era of both historic opportunities and unprecedented challenges.
To adapt to these new changes and new needs, the Reform Plan on the Funding System of the National Natural Science Fund in the new era were approved at the first Plenary Meeting of the 8th NSFC Committee. According to the roadmap, in the next 5 to 10 years, three major reform tasks will be accomplished, namely identifying funding categories, establishing category-specific review system, and optimizing layout of research areas.
l The first task is to identify funding categories. The ultimate goal is to give timely support to truly new ideas and concepts which provide concrete solutions to meaningful scientific problems. To this end, we will distinguish basic researches with different scientific attributes. Specifically, to divide scientific research activities into four categories according to the attributes of scientific issues: research of creative and timely ideas, research focusing on frontiers of science in unique ways, application-driven basic research, and transdiscipinary leading-edge research.
l The second task is to improve evaluation mechanism. An appropriate review process is needed for each of the four above-mentioned funding categories. A category-specific review system with the assistance of AI and other modern technologies to match reviewers with applications in a scientific way will be adopted. In the meantime, we will set up a peer-review mechanism featuring Responsibility, Credit and Contribution (RCC) based on the active participation of scientists so as to improve the accuracy, fairness and performance in supporting basic research.
l The third task is to improve the layout of research areas in accordance with the inherent logic and landscape of the knowledge system, so it will integrate knowledge and major demands, combines basic theory with applied research, and solves the problems of duplicative researches and isolation of disciplines.
Looking ahead, NSFC will stress on the following aspects in its future development: innovative research, talents cultivation, international cooperation and management of excellence. NSFC is proud to be a key contributor to the progress and prosperity of Chinese basic research, and meanwhile grow along with it.
NSFC is responsible for directing, coordinating and making effective use of the national natural science fund to support basic research and stimulate free exploration, identify and foster scientific talents, as well as to promote progress in science and technology and the harmonious socioeconomic development for the nation.
The main responsibilities of NSFC are:
1. Formulate and implement funding plans to support basic research, identify and foster scientific talents, accept project applications, organize peer review, administrate funded projects, promote the effective allocation of scientific resources, and create a favorable environment for innovation;
2. Formulate principles, policies and plans for the national development of basic research in accordance with the governmental administrations for science and technology, and provide consultations for major issues in the science and technology development of the country;
3. Implement works entrusted by the State Council and relevant governmental administrations, and joint funding activities with relevant institutions;
4. Establish partnerships with governmental administrations for science and technology, funding agencies and academic institutions in other countries and regions and conduct international collaborations.
5. Provide supports to other science foundations in China;
6. Undertake other tasks assigned by the State Council.