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[BUENOS AIRES] Argentina's National Scientific and Technological Research Council (CONICET) has announced plans to recruit hundreds of new researchers as part of a broad strategy to boost the country's science.

The scientists will be recruited to work in national research institutes, such as the Argentinean Institute of Space Physics. At present, only 22 per cent of CONICET scientists work in these institutes, while the majority of the rest are employed in universities.

The council will create 300 new positions this year, and place another 200 scientists in naturally occurring vacancies. Overall, the number of scientists employed in the institutes will grow from 4,224 to 5,200 by 2008.

CONICET will also provide 1,500 new fellowships a year for postgraduate and postdoctoral research. Some of these researchers will be given permanent positions with CONICET at the end of their fellowships.

The new jobs and research fellowships are part of a 12-point 'strategic programme for institutional development', which will be implemented by CONICET over the next four years.

Other aspects of the plan include updating scientific equipment, improving science communication, and promoting research collaboration and links between institutions, particularly in other countries in the Mercosur common market (whose main members are Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, with Bolivia and Chile as associate members).

CONICET also wants to support technology transfer to the private sector, and to address the way staff and funds are distributed, following criticisms that institutions not located in the capital, Buenos Aires, are currently being marginalised.

Half of Argentina's population lives in the capital and its suburbs, and the majority of the science budget has traditionally been spent there. CONICET intends to fund more scientists in other cities, such as Cordoba, Mendoza and Rosario, with the intention of generating a 'critical mass' of local researchers to further boost science beyond the capital.

"Under the previous system, the future of research in this country was under threat," says Eduardo Charreau, president of CONICET. He adds that the new programme has been developed after lengthy internal and external evaluation.

Daniel Filmus, Argentina's secretary of education, points out that the country has not had a long-term science policy since the military coup of 1966, which sparked a brain drain that left the country's scientific community in disarray.

"This programme will change the old developmental model," says Filmus. "We hope to turn Argentina into a knowledge-based society."