[TUNIS] The Tunisian government has launched a US$16.5 million project to support the country's scientific research and innovation systems.
The three-year project, funded by the European Union, will aim to improve governance of the country's research and innovation sector, revitalise research and develop new national and international collaborations, according to Abdelaziz Rassaa, minister for industry and technology.
"The Support Project to Research and Innovative System (SPRIS) is an excellent opportunity to boost the National Research and Innovation System in Tunisia, which needs to be efficient to successfully carry out any economic development strategy," said Rassaa at the launch of the project last month (12 October).
By 2016, Tunisia aims to increase its exports of technological products from 30 per cent to 50 per cent by developing industrial sectors, such as electronics, through research and innovation, said the minister.
The steering committee for the project met for the first time last month (12 October) and is still to develop a strategy document and assign funds to individual projects.
Rachid Ghrir, director of research at the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research told SciDev.Net that the focus is to "improve the contribution of research and innovation to socioeconomic development and generate new jobs in Tunisia, while strengthening ties between the research and production systems and helping the country integrate into European research programmes".
Mohamed Maalej, a member of the National Advisory Council for Scientific and Technological Research, told SciDev.Net: "Although Tunisia has an integrated system of scientific research and innovation in terms of legislation and institutions, the economic return of research results is still weak, especially in the field of industry".
The country allocates 1.25 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) to research and development and plans to reach 1.5 per cent of GDP by 2014, but the effect on the economy s of such investment are largely still to be seen, according to Maalej.
Maalej added that "this new project should adopt a cost-effective strategy to ensure the best use of research results, especially in the industrial field" and that it should "make use of international cooperation for supporting national research and industrial projects".
"The implementation of such an ambitious project is the main challenge," said Souheib Oueslati, a biotechnology researcher at the Center of Biotechnology.
Project leaders should ensure they stick to the key targets outlined in the project, "so the scientific research system, the economy, and society as a whole benefit".
The Tunisian National Research and Innovation System is made up of 33 research centers and almost 16,000 researchers, according to UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).