[ISLAMABAD] A severe money shortage in Pakistan caused by the global financial crisis has delayed or terminated a swathe of key science initiatives.
The latest casualty is the National Commission on Biotechnology (NCB) — established in 2001 to support biotech research and training — which was not given renewed funding at a meeting of the country's planning commission this month (11 May).
The activities of the National Core Group in Life Sciences (NCGLS), set up in January 2002 to improve human resource development in the sector, were similarly terminated late last year (31 December).
Both programmes had limited durations but have been extended in the past. "If the government was interested, they could have renewed them for another term," Anwar Nasim, who headed both NCB and NCGLS, told SciDev.Net.
The loss of the programmes means there are no longer coordinating bodies through which institutions can share ideas and avoid duplication of efforts, he adds.
Haleem Asghar, scientific advisor with the Ministry of Science told SciDev.Net that that time-bound projects like NCB and NCGLS have simply expired and that "the parent organisations can re-start them if they get required funds".
The Higher Education Commission (HEC), responsible for funding research and development in universities, has abandoned US$15 billion-plans to establish six international science and technology universities in Pakistan (see Pakistan plans 'state of the art' science universities).
The HEC will also sponsor fewer foreign research scholarships this year — just 400 compared to about 1,000 in 2007.
And the commission hasn't received about ten per cent of its US$267 million 2008–2009 budget, resulting in the delay of 85 projects including research grants for young scientists.
A finance ministry spokesperson confirmed that the HEC funding cuts and delays are due to the country's cash shortage.
Some believe that the measures could undo progress made in scientific research. "[The cuts] may take us back to pre-2000 when a mere 23 per cent of university faculty had PhDs and little research took place," Qasim Jan, the vice chancellor of Quaid-i-Azam University, told SciDev.Net.
But others believe this is good time for the country to review its science spending. Pervez Hoodbhoy, physics professor at Quaid-i-Azam, says that some HEC projects were a waste of money. "Re-assess first the actual needs in higher education and then spend," he says.