[CAIRO] Egypt's government has increased science funding by almost a third this year, and has promised up to 50,000 new jobs in industry for young researchers, mainly to help with practical projects in the private sector.
The country's cabinet approved a budget for the 2011/12 financial year last week (1 June) that increases science research spending to US$90.5 million, from US$66.5 million last year.
The money will be shared between research centres, the Academy of Scientific Research and Technology (ASRT) and the Ministry of Scientific Research, Maged El-Sherbiny, president of the ASRT and the assistant minister of scientific research, told SciDev.Net. He added the academy's budget will increase from US$2.5 million to US$13 million.
Part of the money will be spent on linking up with the industrial sector to recruit 40,000–50,000 researchers to work at universities, research institutions and private companies on research that can help develop solutions to practical problems. The government has asked ASRT to allocate the young researchers and recent graduates to appropriate research fields within the industry by the end of the year.
ASRT is now receiving applications from scientists and industries to determine research needs before committing an exact sum and setting a precise number of new jobs needed.
The former government, overthrown after Egypt's uprising earlier this year (25 January), did not prioritise scientific research, so links between science and industry were only marginal, said El-Sherbiny, adding that the new government aims to make science and research a cornerstone of developing the new Egypt.
Ali Hebeish, president of the Egyptian Syndicate of Scientific Professions — a professional organisation for Egyptian scientists — welcomed the increase in the science research budget. "The government [has] succeeded in transferring its statements about new science policies since the uprising to real deeds," he said.
Hebeish toldSciDev.Net that "linking scientific research with industry's needs is a good step that will help in funding research and broaden the researchers' base, without putting burdens on the governmental budget".
Azza Serri Eldin, a researcher at the National Research Center (NRC) said: "Funds were always the main hurdle that the accomplishment of our research projects faced, as sometimes we had to pay some of our research expenses to finish them."
But Shehata Smeda, former chair of the Egyptian Chamber of Textile Industries at the Federation of Egyptian Industries, warned that the project should have continuous support from the government to succeed in the long run.
And, although this increase in funding from around 0.23 to 0.3 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) represents an important leap forward for scientific research in Egypt, El-Sherbiny said it was still not enough.
"Spending on scientific research should be about two per cent of the Egyptian GDP — it is not acceptable to keep it at just 0.3 per cent if Egypt is planning to rely on science and research as the locomotive of development," he said.