By: Javier Crúz and Aleida Rueda


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[MEXICO CITY] The promise of an increase in Mexico's science budget for 2008 has been met with cautious optimism by the country's leading scientists.

Mexico's president Felipe Calderón recently announced a 17 per cent increase in funding from 32,500 million pesos in 2007 (close to US$3 million) to 38,000 million (some US$3.5 million).

Speaking at the National Science and Technology Fair in Mexico City last month (18–20 September), the head of Mexico's National Council for Science and Technology (CONACYT), Juan Carlos Romero Hicks, also predicted an increase in membership numbers for the National System of Researchers — a registry of the country's top researchers and technology developers — from 13,485 members to 14,480.

"I want to interpret these as encouraging signals, at least until proven otherwise," said Juan Pedro Laclette, president of the Mexican Academy of Sciences, speaking at a symposium on basic science and sustainable development (24 September), in the state of Yucatán.

Laclette said that in the past, proposed increases have "gone up in smoke" during last minute adjustments to the federal budget in congress each December.

Even though Mexico's science and technology law demands that at least one per cent of GDP be invested in scientific research, legislators often cut the budget down to less than 0.4 per cent. The amount spent on research and development in 2007, as estimated by CONAYCT, was approximately 0.33 per cent of the country's GDP.

"Other issues are regarded as matters of survival, but science and technology are taken only as cultural priorities," said Arturo Menchaca, a leading physicist at Mexico's National University, at the Yucatán symposium.

Joel Arredondo, adjunct director for administration and finance at CONACYT, told SciDev.Net that he believes the projected increase "stands a good chance" of surviving the December cuts.

The proposed increase in funding would provide financial support for CONACYT's research centres and scholarships, he said.

But he added that the proposed budget is still not large enough to support a significant increase in the number of basic science projects.