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[MEXICO CITY] Mexico's National Council For Science And Technology (CONACYT) has slashed the number of scholarships available for postgraduate students to study science subjects in foreign countries. The final number could be as low as 200.


In June, CONACYT announced that it would support only 300 people studying for masters or doctoral degrees overseas, compared to 835 in 2003 and 1,500 in 2001. The 64 per cent cut was the biggest in two decades.


Silvia Alvarez, who directs the council's 'development of scientists' programme, had described the reductions as "nationalistic" as they favour Mexican research programmes over those abroad.

But CONACYT announced last week that it doesn't have enough funds to support about one-third of the 300 students, meaning the number of scholarships could drop to about 200.

The decision to cut scholarships contrasts with the Mexican government's 2001-2006 special programme of science and technology, which proposed as a main objective the production of more than 5,000 science doctorates each year.

Rene Drucker, coordinator of scientific research at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), thinks the cuts are beneficial and told SciDev.Net "it is better to support national studies, because Mexico has international level postgraduate programmes".


Octavio Paredes, president of the AMC, disagrees, saying that the reduction in the number of scholarships threatens the development of high-quality human resources in Mexico. Mexican universities are inadequate and the students need to go overseas, he told SciDev.Net.

According to CONACYT, Mexico has only 25 postgraduate science programmes of 'international quality' and these are concentrated in just in two institutions in Mexico City: 12 are at the Advanced Studies and Research Centre, and 11 at UNAM.

Each year, only about 1,100 Mexicans are awarded PhDs, out of a population of over 100 million, and 60 per cent of these study in Mexico.

Pedro Laclette, vice-president of the Mexican Academy of Sciences, says it is five times more expensive to pay for postgraduate studies in countries outside Mexico.


According with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Mexico invests the least in science and technology of its 32 members, and is second to last in the number of doctorates awarded.