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[SANTIAGO] The Chilean National Commission for Scientific and Technological Research (CONICYT) announced this month (5 August) that it would increase the numbers of subsidies for scientists hired by private companies.

Last year, the public-private partnership was tried out in 17 companies, focusing mostly on biotechnology and IT companies. Its success led the organisation to extend the subsidies to other private companies such as salmon-farming associations and forestry companies.

CONICYT is now offering to help more 25 companies, which will be selected from those applying before 24 September 2005. The companies will receive a subsidy for up to three years, with one researcher allocated to each project .

During the first year of the grant, CONICYT will pay 80 per cent of the scientist's salary. This contribution will be reduced to 50 per cent in the second year, and 30 per cent in the third. To qualify for the programme, a researcher must be earning at least 1,200,000 pesos (US$2,241) per month.

The initiative is part of the Science and Technology Bicentennial Programme funded by CONICYT and the World Bank.

It is aimed at strengthening ties between science and the private sector. Most research in Chile is funded by the public sector, and the government is seeking to link public and private sectors better to stimulate investment in research and development.

The companies aim to hire young researchers who have mostly only worked in academia and have little if any experience of working in a commercial setting. In fact, scientists are only selected if they have earned their doctorate degree within the previous five years.

The research projects might involve developing a new product, improving a production process or developing a new research field in the company, says Andrés Benavides-Yates, who oversees the initiative.

Rodrigo Vidal, molecular biologist at the University of Santiago, is one of 17 scientists who participated in the initiative's test run last year.

Since last February he has worked for Diagnotec, a biotechnology company.

"This is an excellent way to link the private sector and universities," he told SciDev.Net, adding that such ties are unusual in Chile.

"With this initiative both [sides] win: for scientists it is easier to develop and trade a biotechnological product with the backing of a company, while the company can speed up product developments by having a researcher as a part of its staff rather than as a consultant or an external service," he said.

"The programme's main objective is for the researchers to be hired permanently by the company", says Benavides-Yates.

The initiative is part of the strategies outlined by president Ricardo Lagos to reach his target of investing one per cent of Chile's gross domestic product in research and development by 2006 (see Chile's president pledges boost for R&D funding).