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  • Hike in Pakistan's nuclear research jars against science funding cuts

[ISLAMABAD] Pakistan's 2011 annual budget has seen a hefty hike in nuclear research and development (R&D) while other key science sectors have suffered a decline in grants.

The budget approved this week (22 June) allocated a 6.7 billion Pakistan rupees (US$77.9 million) hike for nuclear research and development — from US$179 million in the 2010-2011 budget to US$225 million in the current 2011-2012 fiscal.  

The ministry of science and technology that oversees 16 research and development institutes faces a US$5.8 million decrease in the 2011 budget, with an allocation of US$12.8 million.

In 2010-11, the ministry was originally allocated US$18.6million, but was later granted only US$6.9 millions as the country had to divert funds to cope with unprecedented floods.

This year's budget provides for ten new projects that include the setting up of a marine research laboratory in Karachi, the development of rapid methods for detection of pathogenic microbes, the genetic improvement of rice varieties, and development of a hepatitis vaccine.

However, funds for two key socio-economic ministries of food and agriculture and environment have been affected after they were re-designated from federally administered ministries to provincially administered ones, after an amendment in the country's constitution.

The country's Higher Education Commission (HEC) that faces a prospect of being devolved into a provincial organisation saw a funds cut of US$16.3 million against the US$18.6 million in 2010. About 70 per cent of the HEC's budget goes for university research.

Some university academics have flayed the reduction in research funds.

"Unexpected cuts on last year's approved budget have shaken the confidence of researchers and scholars. Many post-doctoral research fellows in foreign universities (funded by the Pakistan government) abandoned their degree programmes for non-provision of funds,” Masoom Yasinzai, vice-chancellor of the Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad, told SciDev.Net.  

Haris Rasheed, dean of sciences at the University of Punjab, Lahore, said: "We cannot understand any reason behind reducing [the] science budget ... How can we plan when there is no stability in government's commitments".    

The country's space R&D budget has been reduced to just over US$25 million from last year's US$27.7 million.