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  • Mexican president reveals ambitious science plans

[MEXICO CITY] Mexico's new president, Enrique Peña Nieto, has announced plans to increase funding and policy support for science and technology in a drive to create a culture of science and aid domestic industries.

The government will draw up a roadmap geared towards establishing "a new scientific culture in the country, based on academic knowledge, the strength of the private sector and governmental responsibility", Peña Nieto said in a press release this month (4 January).

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  • Mexico plans to boost S&T investment and develop science in its regions
  • Government roadmap includes pledge to boost science funding to one per cent of GDP
  • But experts warn that funding pledges are still low and reflect poor state of Mexican science

The roadmap, to be produced in consultation with the ministries of finance and economy, will seek to increase overall science funding to at least one per cent of GDP, and Peña Nieto said he would like to see science funding tripled.

Although a 2002 law stipulated that government science funding should be one per cent of GDP, Mexico has failed to raise investment to this level. The country currently invests 0.4 per cent of its GDP in science.

The president's backing means the country could reach the goal within his six-year presidency by increasing science funding by 0.1 per cent of GDP each year. However, any increase will have to be approved by the country's parliament.

The roadmap will also seek to increase links between academia and industry; to strengthen the national system of science, technology and innovation; and to create of a foundation to raise funds for science.

In addition, the government will increase the number of scientists and will design individual public policies for each region and state, determined by their specific needs and capacities, with the aim of decentralising S&T development.

Peña Nieto also promised to increase the powers of the National Council of Science and Technology (CONACYT), the main research funding agency in the country, describing it as a "vital instrument for accelerating the Mexican state's transformation".

The Scientific and Technological Advisory Forum (FCCyT), an independent governmental advisory body, welcomed the initiative in a press statement last week (9 January).

But it added that more private sector investment would also be needed, to strengthen the efforts to help turn Mexico into a knowledge society.

According to FCCyT, Mexico's 2013 national budget had already unveiled a rise in S&T investment, with 11.5 per cent more funding being reserved for S&T than in 2012.

"This is the biggest increase of the last eight years and we are optimistic," Gabriela Dutrénit, FCCyT's general coordinator, tells SciDev.Net.

But "we're still far from the annual increase of 0.1 per cent needed [to ensure] that in 2018 we reach the one per cent of GDP target, as stipulated by the law".

Antonio Lazcano, a biology professor at Mexico City's National Autonomous University of Mexico, and one of the country's leading scientists, also welcomes the initiative.

However, he says that the one per cent goal is still "an extraordinarily low investment percentage compared with other countries" and is "a reflection of how bad things have been for Mexican science in the last decades".

Lazcano warns: "This goal is really modest and stipulates an investment in resources insufficient to create new areas of research".