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Egypt's president, Hosni Mubarak, last week (16 July) authorised the creation of a higher council for science and technology and a science and technology development fund.

The move is designed to restructure and strengthen Egypt's science and technology (S&T) sector in the face of low productivity and criticisms that productive scientists are getting too little of an already small budget (see Egyptian science faces reform).

The new council — to be headed by the prime minister, and to include government ministers, scientists and representatives from the private sector — will coordinate science and technology policy and determine priority areas of research and development.

The new development fund, financially supported by the government, will finance projects approved by the council.

And the Ministry of Science and Technology (formerly the Ministry of Scientific Research) will oversee the implementation of the council's decisions.

Under the new plan, the Egyptian Academy for Scientific Research and Technology — formerly in charge of awarding grants — will become a think-tank.

Acting president Mohsen Mahmoud Shoukry told SciDev.Net the academy would now be able to focus its activities and act as an "expert house", advising on policy and S&T development, among other areas.

The reforms will bring together the management and funding of S&T in one place, instead of being scattered across many ministries, said Hassan Moawad Abdel Al, former president of Alexandria's Mubarak City for Scientific Research and Technology Applications.

This will strengthen and focus Egypt's efforts to develop science, he said, as well as encouraging Egypt's transformation into a knowledge-based society.

Farouk El-Baz, an Egyptian scientist and director of the Center for Remote Sensing at Boston University in the United States, said the performance of the new arrangement should be closely monitored to ensure that the objectives are being met on a long-term basis.

El-Baz indicated that the new fund must be fair and transparent in awarding funding to projects, and that there also needs to be a sizable and sustained increase in the S&T budget over the next few decades. The present budget barely covers salaries and infrastructure costs, he said.

He added that a marked increase in Egypt's S&T ability "would have a very positive effect on the state of science and technology in the rest of the Arab region".