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  • China plans research centres to aid developing world

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Speed read

  • The Chinese Academy of Sciences is planning joint research centres in China with TWAS

  • It also plans to open its own offices throughout the developing world

  • The academy is offering developing-world scholars a chance to study in China

[BEIJING] The Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) is planning a major new drive to extend science cooperation with developing countries, including setting up research centres outside China, as well as new offices of the World Academy of Sciences (TWAS) within China.

Senior officers at CAS have told SciDev.Net that the details of the initiatives are still under discussion, though some centres have already been launched, such as the 'China-Chile Joint Research Center for Astronomy' in February.

The move follows last year's election of the first Chinese president of TWAS, Bai Chunli, who is also the president of the China's science academy.

"International cooperation is very important for CAS, and as a new president of TWAS, we have more opportunity to cooperate with other developing countries," Bai Chunli tells SciDev.Net.

The planned new TWAS centres within China, which are still under discussion, will aim to promote the cooperation and exchange of science, and the training of scientists.

CAS is also planning to launch a programme to train hundreds of new PhD students, as well as senior scholars from developing countries at the Chinese research institutions. Last month, as part of the programme, the academy called for applications for a new CAS-TWAS President's Fellowship Programme, which will offer 140 scholars a year from developing countries a chance to do PhDs in China.

CAS's first overseas research centre is planned to be in Kenya and will be jointly established with the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, but the details and budget for the initiative are still in discussion.

Mohamed Hag Ali Hassan, treasurer of TWAS and co-chair of the IAP (the global network of science academies), tells SciDev.Net that the CAS research centre in Africa a "fascinating initiative" that will bring substantial benefits to both scientific and development communities in Africa.

He says that the centre should prioritise training a new generation of talented African researchers in Chinese laboratories by linking postgraduate education to key interdisciplinary research areas.

It should also establish a network of collaborating institutions in Africa with expertise in these research areas to promote scientific exchanges and the centre's visibility in Africa, says Hassan.

"The centre should encourage and support research projects that aim at generating and applying frontier scientific knowledge to solve specific, real-life problems facing Africa," he says.

S. Samar Hasnain, professor of molecular biophysics at the University of Liverpool, United Kingdom, and a member of TWAS, says: "The opening of the first CAS office in Africa, often a neglected continent, with the aim of increasing science and higher education cooperation, is visionary".

Hans van Ginkel, professor of geography at Utrecht University, the Netherlands and a TWAS member, says this "is a great step forward" towards strengthening scientific capacities in developing countries.

"Both the [CAS] centres in developing countries and the TWAS centres in China for academics from developing countries could serve this purpose well," he says.

But van Ginkel warns that it will be important for the initiatives to strengthen substantially the scientific capacity in the developing countries.

China is increasingly becoming recognised for its innovations and their applications in developing countries.

For example, in a speech this month at the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference 2013, China, Bill Gates, co-chair and trustee of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said the country's scientific breakthroughs can help Africa and less developed countries battle epidemics, hunger and poverty, Xinhua news agency reported (7 April)

"The breakthrough science and technology that's happening here in China can help the poorest people in the world lead healthier, more productive lives," Gates said.