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[BOGOTA] Colombia is set to receive a US$0.5 billion loan to expand its science and technology capacity, it was announced last week (15 March).

The World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank will provide the money, which will initially be used to help build structures to allow Colombia to run science research more smoothly and then target key science areas that the country wants to develop.

Last year the country approved a science law that put its Department for Science, Technology and Innovation — Colciencias — in charge of all governmental institutions' research budgets (see Colombia increases status of science and technology).

Colombia believes it needs a more efficient platform to allow it to integrate information about everything that is going on in science, technology and innovation within its borders, according to Francisco Miranda, director of Colciencias.

Miranda announced that under the proposed agreement the US$500 million will be deployed in two stages. During the first stage, between 2011 and 2013, each bank will give US$25 million.

In these first three years the money will be spent on six different areas, all aimed at resolving some of the problems plaguing Colciencias as it struggles to serve its fast-growing science community, Miranda told SciDev.Net.

He gave examples of two such areas: the lack of an efficient information system and the lack of 'brain-gain' programmes (see Colombia exports its best people). The loan will finance the tools Colciencias uses to support research projects, not only for science communities but also to boost innovation in industry.

Traditionally, scientists have identified interesting research and then asked for financial support. The change in science policy turns this around — Colombia will be asking its scientists to research areas deemed important for the country and its competitiveness.

"With the loan we will invite them to make proposals in strategic areas that we have identified as priorities, such as new materials, ICT, biodiversity and biofuels," said Miranda.

"We will spend part of this money to develop pilots in strategic areas."
Programmes for capacity building and for promoting social appropriation of science, technology and innovation will also be financed during this first stage.

The second part of the loan, totalling US$450 million, will be released sometime after 2013 and will finance projects that fall within the strategic areas as well as those identified by national and international experts.
Alejandro Caballero, head of the Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) Project for Colombia at the World Bank, said that the loan seeks to finance STI in the long run.

"We expect an increase in the capacity of Colciencias to boost the formation of advanced human resources and the investment of public and private entities in research and innovation," he said.

At the end of the first stage, continued Caballero, Colombia will receive enough resources to invest in STI so as to impact positively its capacity to create, absorb and use knowledge, so that the citizens’ quality of live will improve.

Since 2005, Argentina, Chile, Mexico and Uruguay have received similar types of loans from the World Bank.