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Morocco has announced new support for scientific research including strengthening scientific infrastructure and giving universities more power.

Morocco's prime minister, Abbas El Fassi, announced the initiative during a meeting at the National Centre for Scientific and Technical Research last month (5 May).

The country will refurbish existing laboratories and build new ones. The programme will also offer training in financial management for scientific research activities.

Universities will be made financially independent from the government to make them more responsive to research needs and better able to forge links with the private sector. It is hoped that this will foster a culture of entrepreneurship in the academic community.

Under the new initiative science and technology investments totalling 69 million Moroccan dirhams (US$8.5 million) will be made in 2009 — an increase of US$620,000 from 2008.

The government hopes that private investors will provide 25 per cent co-financing for research that it regards as a priority for Moroccan development. The current co-financing level is just 12 per cent.

Research priorities will include the environment, water management, energy, food processing, medicinal and aromatic plants, fish stocks, mining and agriculture.

The new initiative will also provide incentives to students through a scholarship programme for postgraduate scientific research. And companies who finance science and technology will also be offered incentives such as access to scientific results that can be used to develop new products.

In addition, under the existing Emergency Education and Training Plan (EETP) which runs from this year until 2012, around US$23 million will be spent on scientific research. EETP aims to give a new impetus to education and training reforms to meet the Millennium Development Goals on poverty reduction.

Hassan Hamdi, professor of physics at the Semlalia Faculty of Sciences, University Cadi Ayyad in Morocco, describes the initiative as "a new breath".

He says it will boost knowledge-based economic development in Morocco, "through encouraging more outstanding students to continue their studies at the doctorate level, avoiding bureaucracy, promoting research in scientific areas relevant to development and creating positive synergies between higher education, research centres and industrial sectors".

But Hamdi warns that the additional money should go hand in hand with restructuring universities to ensure they can respond flexibly to rapid changes in science and the increasing use of information technologies.