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  • Egypt drops plans for separate science ministry

[CAIRO] Egypt has dropped plans to create a separate ministry for scientific research, to the disappointment of scientists who say the decision dampens prospects of an increased budget for the subject.

A new government was formed last month (22 February), after the 25 January uprising, and announced that it would create a scientific research ministry, which would be separate from the higher education ministry where responsibility for science had previously resided.

But, after the resignation of the prime minister just two weeks later, and the formation of another new government on 7 March, the decision was reversed.

"The decision emerged following consideration of the close links between research activities in both research centres and universities," Amr Ezzat Salama, minister of higher education and scientific research, told SciDev.Net.

He added that he knew that this merger could affect the share that scientific research had in the ministry's budget, but pointed to promises he had from the state that the scientific research budget will be increased as soon as possible.

"Increasing the scientific research budget is essential because the research activity in a country like Egypt is the locomotive of development — not a luxury activity," he said.

But Egyptian researchers said the decision reflected confusion in the country's vision for the future of scientific research.

Maged El-Sherbiny, president of the Academy of Scientific Research and Technology (ASRT), said he was frustrated by the announcement but understood the reasons, as "73 per cent of Egypt's research activity occurs in the universities".

El-Sherbiny said that there must be a strong bond connecting researchers in higher education and in research centres but he called for a proper financial balance between the two.

According to the country's Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics, the scientific research budget for 2011 is around US$89 million. This has not increased since 2007, and represents just 0.23 per cent of Egypt's gross domestic product (GDP), according to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation's 2010 science report.

Mohamed Al-Halawany, a researcher at the ASRT's National Information Network, said: "The merger means that the largest percentage of the ministry budget will be allocated to wages, salaries, and allowances — instead of securing a separate and encouraging budget for scientific research.

"It is essential that research centres look for ways to raise their own funds, by establishing means for marketing their research and findings to investors," he added.

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