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Britain's Department for International Development (DFID) has agreed that it currently makes insufficient efforts to support capacity building in scientific research in developing countries — and has promised to do more.

The commitment is made in DFID's response to comments from the UK's development and research communities on draft proposals, published last year, for the department's new research strategy.

The department says that it received a total of 38 comments — more than on any other topic — on the issue of in-country research capacity building. Many of these emphasised that the longer-term impact of research programmes depended on the strength of such activities.

"We agree that more should be done," says DFID in its response. And it acknowledges that although individual developing country governments — and the agency's own country offices — may decide that they have higher immediate priorities than science, "science and technology [are] gaining increasing recognition".

DFID adds that where research is considered to be a priority, its own central research department will work to promote capacity building with its country offices. As an example, it points to its collaboration with the Wellcome Trust on strengthening capacity in health research in Kenya and Malawi.

In addition, says DFID, a potential contribution towards capacity building will be used as one of the criteria for assessing new research management contracts. And research being conducted by PhD or MSc students will be permitted within DFID-funded research projects.

The relatively low priority currently given by DFID to research capacity building was widely commented on by witnesses to an inquiry held earlier this year by the House of Commons' science and technology committee into the UK's support for development-related research.

Some critics claim that the neglect of capacity building has been the result of an excessive focus on short-term poverty alleviation strategies.

And many of those who submitted comments to the department stressed that a broad approach was needed. This meant supporting capacity building not only through collaborative research projects, but also by strengthening institutions responsible for research and its application within developing countries. 

In its response to these comments, DFID says it agrees that "major research capacity building is a very long-term process that can only effectively be done at a country level". It adds: "we believe that budget support builds institutions and public services that are essential to effective science capacity".

Link to full text of response to comments on DFID's draft research framework (PDF)

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