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The Argentine government has dropped a scheme introduced by its predecessor that had been intended to help young scientists to find a job in their own country and persuade them not to become permanent members of the ‘brain drain’.

The programme was first proposed two years ago by the then secretary of science, Dante Caputo, as a way of providing grants to researchers under 40 years of age. The researchers would have received up to US$30,000 a year for three years to cover their salaries and research costs.

Caputo’s successor, Adriana Puiggrós, agreed last April to put the programme into practice. A panel of senior researchers subsequently picked 70 young scientists from 433 applicants. Most of them were living abroad and keen to return to Argentina. Others had been planning to emigrate, but dropped their plans when they were told last October that they had been selected.

The programme was planned to start this month, and the topics to be studied by the researchers ranged from string theory to the use of carnivores to protect grassland in the Pampa region, or missing people during the last military dictatorship.

However the new secretary for science, technology and productive innovation, Julio Luna, has terminated the programme before it started, declaring it to be both invalid and illegal. Luna, who was appointed by Argentina’s new new Peronist government that came to power in January, has given various reasons for this decision.

For example, he claims that Puiggrós had left behind what he described as “an atomic bomb”, as she had made no provision for the scheme in the 2002 science budget.

He also says that the new programme would have created a career structure outside the Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas (Conicet), which is the only Argentinian public organisation authorised to offer this kind of career opportunity for young scientists.

In response, Puiggrós claims that funds for the programme had been included in the budget request for this year. Furthermore, as the programme had only been intended to last for three years, it was not offering a parallel long-term scientific career. “We had planned to give grants, not pay salaries”, she says.

Luna has offered alternative kinds of fellowships to the scientists who had been selected. One would be a postdoctoral fellowship, and the other a fellowship for scientists returning from abroad. Both would last for two years, and they would include stipends of US$450 and US$800 a month.

But the offer, which involved considerably less money than the original scheme, has not won much support from researchers. “With that money, we cannot carry out our research”, commented the sociologist Ana Longoni, one of the successful applicants.

“I rejected two good offers — from Brazil and the United States — last year because I decided to stay and work in my country”, says chemist Mariano Correa. “But after this move by the government, I regret my decision”.

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