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  • Tunisia deal with India opens developing country links

[TUNIS] Tunisia is taking its first steps towards boosting scientific links with other developing countries following the 2011 revolution that overthrew a government perceived to be more concerned with politics than science.

Following calls from the Tunisian science ministry to boost scientific relations with developing nations, particularly emerging countries such as Brazil and India, Tunisia has entered into an agreement with the Indian science ministry.

The two countries have agreed to set up a US$8-million programme to fund collaboration between Tunisian and Indian researchers working in fields related to biotechnology and medical sciences. The programme will be funded by India through its Technology Diplomacy programme.

The countries identified the fields of research during a ministry meeting in New Delhi last month (25 April). The collaborative programme will run for hree years, and involve exchanging researchers, training Tunisian researchers in Indian laboratories, and organising workshops and joint research projects.

Mohammed Nejib Azhari, director of research programming and cooperation at the Tunisian Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, told SciDev.Net that universities and research institutes in the two countries were asked to submit joint research proposals, and that the chosen projects will begin in September this year.

Azhari added the programme is a part of reforming Tunisia's scientific research strategy after the uprising in 2011.

"The former regime attached research cooperation projects to its political agenda, but now Tunisia is more open to the countries of the [global] South and many negotiations for new cooperation programmes are ongoing," said Azhari.

Mokhtar Essadok, an engineering researcher at the University of Tunis, told SciDev.Net that the former regime created links between Tunisia and developed countries that kept Tunisia dependent on imported technology.

"After the revolution, Tunisia has to boost its relations with other developing countries that may have better experience in particular fields [that may benefit Tunisia], as it is easier to transfer the technology from them," he said.

While Tunisian researchers welcomed the agreement with India, some have cautioned that the government bureaucracy could hamper implementing and tracking the success of such programmes, as they are administered via the governments rather than research institutions.

"Experience with rising developing countries like India could enhance Tunisian research capabilities," said Hafidha Lamine, a researcher at the Tunis International Center for Environmental Technologies.

But she told SciDev.Net that "establishing good plans and the right research priorities are the keys to ensuring positive results".

Mounira Hmani, a researcher at the Centre of Biotechnology of Sfax, told SciDev.Net that a national committee should be set up to ensure that collaboration agreements run smoothly and that funds go to researchers rather than being misused or wasted.

Bureaucracy and misuse of funds must be tackled "to let Tunisian scientific research, which has a very good infrastructure, develop and become effective", she said.

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