[QUITO] All state scientific institutions in Ecuador have had their budgets slashed for 2009 after the national science budget was halved.
The move is another blow to the country's scientific community, whose funding history has been turbulent.
In October last year (2008), President Rafael Correa's government announced an investment of US$76 million to fund 75 research and innovation projects in priority development areas over the following three years.
The National Secretariat of Science and Technology (Senacyt) was due to pay out about US$40 million for the first year of the projects in January. But when it emerged that there was insufficient funds, Senacyt told university heads that their funds would be cut by 75 per cent.
After protests from senior scientists and university directors, the state compromised and halved the budget — meaning US$23 million will be spent on research in 2009, says Pedro Montalvo, the secretary of the Senacyt.
Montalvo told SciDev.Net that none of the planned projects are at risk, and he hopes that US$76 million will still be spent over the three years. "Senacyt did a financial reprogramming for the 2009 disbursements. The total amount won't be affected," he says.
But the universities aren't satisfied. "With the budget cut, we come back to the same situation. It means that Ecuadorian science research will be reduced to a minimum," says Rolando Saenz, general director of investigation at the Central University of Ecuador.
Ecuador has suffered science budget cuts in the past. US$30 million of state funding from oil revenues was earmarked for research and innovation for 2006 — a considerable increase on previous years — but the money never materialised. There was also controversy in 2005 when the Ministry of Finance proposed excluding science from the budget.
Inconsistency in science funding could be behind Ecuador's poor publication rates, says Sáenz. A study published last month (29 January) by Juan Carlos Idrovo, an Ecuadorian physics researcher based at Vanderbilt University in the United States, showed that between 1965 and 2009, each Ecuadorian university published four papers every five years on average, while a US researcher alone produces three papers per year.
And there is no national goal for science expenditure. The current constitution, approved in 2008, says — for the first time — the state will promote research for which it will allocate a percentage of the general budget. But the actual amount is unclear.
In last decade, Ecuador has invested an average of 0.07 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP) in science. In contrast, its neighbour Colombia spends almost 0.4 per cent and Costa Rica in Central America gives just over 0.3 per cent, according to the Economic Commission for Latin America.