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The UN has announced an international centre for South-South cooperation in science, technology and innovation based in Malaysia.

The plan was approved by the executive board of UNESCO (UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) this week (24 April).

The centre — to be run by the Malaysian Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation — will seek to create a network of national centres of excellence. This will promote research collaboration, technology transfer and the development of industries in fields such as information technology, biotechnology and nanotechnology.

It will also offer fellowships to scientists, institution managers and policy makers to attend training in science policy making.

The centre will be initially located at the Academy of Sciences Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur, before relocation to its own facility.

The Malaysian government will contribute US$10 million for construction and set-up costs, and will continue to contribute US$1.2 million annually.

Calestous Juma, director of the Science, Technology and Globalization project at Harvard University in Boston, said Malaysia is an important role model for other developing countries. He said the country has used innovation as a foundation for development and international competitiveness.

But he added, "I hope the centre will be led by Malaysians and avoid being hobbled by multilateral bureaucracies that put political processes and numbing procedures above practical expediency."

Anwer Nasim, science advisor to the science committee of the Organization of the Islamic Conference — which the Malaysian centre will collaborate with — said that developing countries are in dire need of sound scientific policies that lead to industrial progress.

"It would be of help if the centre picks up areas of high priority such as biotechnology from the very beginning, so that programmes can be focused," he told SciDev.Net.

UNESCO has also agreed to establish a centre in Libya to encourage networking and the transfer of knowledge between scientists from Africa and the Middle East.

The centre will promote scientific research, education, and sustainable development in the region. In particular, it will help develop policies to promote and coordinate cooperative research on technology to access shared groundwater.