[BLANTYRE] The government of Malawi has announced it will restructure its science ministry, create a university dedicated to science and technology, and establish a national commission to guide the development and use of science in the country.
The moves are intended to help Malawi overcome its reliance on tobacco exports by making better use of science and technology.
According to science and technology minister Khumbo Chirwa, the government last week (18 January) appointed an eight-member committee charged with creating a strategic plan for the science and technology university.
If all goes to plan, the university should be up and running by the end of the year.
In an interview with SciDev.Net, Chirwa said the government will create the university by converting and upgrading facilities at Lilongwe Technical College and the Natural Resources College, also in Lilongwe. The government plans to send a group of lecturers to the University of Taipei, Taiwan, for training before they take up positions at the new university.
The minister, who would not disclose the university's budget, said it would be publicly funded but that the government would approach donors to fund any shortfalls.
In a related development, the government announced on 21 January plans to restructure the Ministry of Science, Technology and Industry into four key departments for science and technology, industrial development, planning, and finance.
The reorganisation is intended to strengthen the capacity of the country's official department for scientific, industrial and applied technology research, the Malawi Industrial Research and Technology Development Centre (MIRTDC), by facilitating the establishment of new research facilities.
Christopher Guta, director general of the MIRTDC, says new premises will be purpose-built at a cost of US$6 million on land already identified in Blantyre, and will focus on research and transfer of technologies in agro-processing, renewable energy and industrial minerals.
The MIRTDC currently rents several buildings in the city, and by building a new centre the government hopes to save hundreds of thousand of dollars.
Guta told SciDev.Net that the MIRTDC was pleased with this sign of the government's intention to develop the science and technology sector through appropriate research.
A National Commission for Science and Technology, to guide Malawi's science development, will be established by the end of the year following the ministry's restructuring.
Malawian scientists have welcomed the government's plan to create a new university specialising in science and technology.
"Science and technology development had been neglected for too long," says Elizabeth Henry, deputy head of the faculty of chemistry at Chancellor College, a branch of the University of Malawi.
"Malawi is probably the only country not offering specialised science and technology education. Most other developing countries are doing it."
Henry told SciDev.Net the new university would add value to science courses already offered in the constituent colleges of the University of Malawi.
Other scientists, who asked to remain nameless, say the government should consult widely with all stakeholders at a national conference before pushing ahead with plans for the university.