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The Chilean government is to receive a long-term loan of US$50 million over the next six years from the World Bank to build up its science base.

The money will be used to equip and build new national laboratories, particularly in biotechnology, materials and information technology. It will also permit a substantial growth in the number of Chilean scientists, in particular by increasing the output of PhDs threefold.

The Chilean government has promised to match the World Bank funding by contributing another US$50 million to support science over the same period.

The loan is a part of the Bicentennial Programme of Science and Technology, launched a year ago by Chilean president Ricardo Lagos. In an official announcement on 9 May, Lagos said that as a result of the additional funding, "Chile will be able to increase by 25 per cent the amount of resources distributed by the National Commission of Scientific and Technological Research (Conicyt) and by 50 per cent the number of high quality scientists".

At present, Chile produces about 140 new PhDs every year. With the new funding, that number should grow to 500 within six years. As a result, by 2008 the country should have 1,000 more qualified scientists than it does today, according to Eric Goles, director of the Conicyt.

“The money will also be used to finance research projects that have been turned down for funding in the past due to a lack of funds”, says Goles. He adds that the growth in local research will reduce the country's dependence on foreign technology, and cites advances in the production of radioisotopes used in medicine as an example of how national research can reduce costs to industry.

Chile invested 0.55 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP) in science and technology research in 1999. It now aims to raise that figure to 1.2 per cent by 2006.

 “By strengthening Chile’s own scientific research network, and enabling Chilean scientists to interact with their peers in Europe and North America, [the project will allow Chile] to develop an innovative capacity matching that of many developed countries,” says Lauritz Holm-Nielsen, a senior science and technology specialist at the World Bank.

The funding will be distributed in two three-year phases. The first deadline for repayment of the loan plus interest will be in nine years’ time.

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