Peru gets new research fund but scientists want vision
[LIMA] In the coming days, the Peruvian government will launch a fund of 300 million soles (about US$114 million) to encourage science and innovation, according to officials.
The Framework Fund for Innovation, Science and Technology (FOMITEC) is part of a package of measures designed to strengthen science, technology and innovation (STI) in the country.
Luis Castilla, the minister of economy and finance, explained that FOMITEC will focus on delivering research training, using incentives to improve the state's role in science and technology activities and helping public research bodies create investment plans.
- The US$114 million fund is designed to support science
- But scientists say greater strategic thinking and more cash are needed
- President is likely to miss his goal on science spending, says an expert
The other initiatives include US$100 million for a fund to promote the development of science and technology links between the private sector, universities and public and private research centres, and a doubling of the annual budget of CONCYTEC, which coordinates Peru's science system, from less than US$6 million to almost US$12 million.
But some leading scientists say that these measures and the projects they will support, while welcome, are just a drop in the ocean. What the country needs instead is a long-term science development strategy backed up with reforms and better allocation of funding.
Although President Ollanta Humala's government is in its second year, there has been no substantial increase in the state's science budget for research.
The government's moves leave the science community swinging between "disappointment and hope", says Javier Avalos, chair of the Forum on science, technology and innovation, a non-profit organization.
"On one hand, this [extra budgetary funding] does show more care in what the government is doing; on the other, the government must urgently increase the number of senior scientists, engineers and technicians, and solve the problems of higher education: poor quality, the lack of relevance of science to society and poor research," he tells SciDev.Net.
Santiago Roca, a professor at ESAN Graduate School for Business, Lima, and member of a commission appointed by Humala to assess the country's science needs, thinks the government lacks a strategic science policy that would convince investors to fund science.
"Adding a few million soles to the budget, a few scholarships, creating a couple of institutes and relaunching institutions doesn't change anything at all," Roca says.
What is needed is to provide and articulate a consistent vision for the future, and "then to mobilise the private sector and make a real industrial policy to guide the economic actors toward the goals of changing production and technology", he adds.
Ronald Woodman, president of Peru's National Academy of Sciences, believes that Humala will fail to fulfill his promise to increase science funding to 0.7 per cent of GDP by 2016, from 0.1 per cent now.
"We are far from that goal and this can't be done quickly," he tells SciDev.Net. But one good area for state investment is to encourage Peruvian scientists working abroad to return and to try to attract foreign researchers, he says.
Gisella Orjeda, president of CONCYTEC, says that her team is trying to identify what blocks research and innovation, and deters talented researchers from working in Peru.
"Our goal is to eliminate or reduce the red tape that complicates the lives of researchers or impedes the growth of the sector, diminishes private investment and complicates [that of the] state," she tells SciDev.Net.