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The European Commission (EC) is providing 20 million euros (US$24 million) to allow scientists in developing countries to join existing European projects.

The EC announced the 'top-up' funds last month (15 February).

It is intended to address poor participation by 'third countries' in projects funded by the EU's Sixth Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development.

Eligible nations include those in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Mediterranean and island states in the Caribbean and Pacific.

András Siegler, director for international cooperation in the EC Research Directorate says it is the first time funds have been allocated specifically for scientists from such countries to participate in European research projects.

"We are trying to encourage European Union researchers to see the value of working with third countries," he told SciDev.Net. "The topics are of mutual interest to Europe and the third countries."

The EC invites young or experienced scientists from both the public and private sector to join ongoing projects in priority areas, such as biotechnology for health, which are listed on a dedicated website (see links, below).

Also listed online are contact details for the coordinators of over 3,000 eligible projects, who must apply for the funding on behalf of the third-country researchers.

Daan du Toit from the South African government's Department of Science and Technology points out that the critical factor for researchers will be convincing the coordinators to choose them to join projects.

"In South Africa, we are very enthusiastic about the top-up call," says du Toit. "We are making a big effort to help South African researchers make use of the opportunity."

Participants in projects funded do not need to move to Europe, he points out.

"One of the reasons the Sixth Framework Programme is very attractive to countries such as South Africa is that it enables our researchers to engage in top-class international research and development while remaining in South Africa, thus building local capacity."