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[LIMA] Brain drain and poor employment prospects are leading to growing discontent amongst Peruvian scientists.

A biannual meeting of the country's scientists was overwhelmed with delegates this month (5-8 January) because of concern about the state of the nation's science.

The International Scientific Meeting of Summer, which was held in Lima, is normally attended by around 1,000 delegates but this time it attracted triple the number.

Modesto Montoya — a nuclear physicist and former director of the Peruvian Nuclear Energy Institute — told the meeting, organised by a network that seeks to boost Peruvian science,  that the country's brain drain is increasing. "Just in Brazil there are approximately two thousand Peruvian scientists," he said.

In the same week, new figures revealed that more than half the recipients of fellowships to study science abroad do not return afterwards.

Iván Rodríguez, president of the National Assembly of Deans, revealed the low return rates during a visit to the Jorge Basadre Grohmann National University in southern Peru.

A government official has admitted that scientists did not even apply for 70 per cent of the available fellowships – which number over 6,000 in total – apparently because of the low prospects that they would lead to employment on return.

María Bazán, head of the Office of Fellowships and Educational Credit at the Ministry of Education, told the Peruvian newspaper El Comercio that, in 2009, the National Institute for Fellowships granted 1,900 fellowships for studies abroad — just 30 per cent of those available.

Bazán told the newspaper that young people are disinclined to apply because they know they won't be able to find a job when they return to their country.

Rodríguez said last week that the lack of employment for returning scientists compels most of them to devote themselves to university teaching, diverting their attention from research.

And Montoya highlighted some of the financial problems: "Young scientists working at public science institutions cannot receive a promotion, nor raise their wages, because the budget law [which prohibits the hiring of new scientists to keep within budget constraints] prevents them from being hired permanently," he told SciDev.Net.

According to Montoya, a scientist in Chile earns on average US$2,500 monthly, whereas in Peru average salaries are about US$700.

He suggested a 'researcher law' to promote the restoration of Peruvian science, encourage the pursuit of science careers, and mitigate brain drain.

Montoya also said he would like to see Peruvian science organisations forced to hire young scientists; incentives offered to scientists to return to the country; a changed school curriculum that gives more importance to science; and the promotion of partnerships between State and universities.