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[MONTEVIDEO] A group of Uruguayan scientists will receive a salary ‘top-up’ for three years in a bid by the government to help them cope with the country's economic crisis and dissuade them from moving abroad.

About 240 researchers — ranging from young researchers to senior scientists — will benefit from the US$1 million programme, which is run by the Ministry of Education and Culture.

The programme, known as the National Fund for Researchers (FNI), was originally created in 1995, following many years of discussion on how to encourage Uruguayan scientists who had left during the dictatorship to return.

But the selection procedure used in the first — and so far only — call for applications in 1999 caused controversy after the five-member committee responsible for assigning the grants selected themselves among the recipients.

In order to avoid criticism of unfairness, it was recently announced that this year's programme is to be managed by an international advisory committee of leading scientists from Argentina, Brazil and Chile.

This committee will choose five Uruguayan researchers to join the selection committee. If any of these are active researchers, they will themselves also receive a salary top-up from the fund. It is hoped that all scientists will be selected by September.

Alberto Majó, director of the National Directorate for Science, Technology and Innovation (DINACYT), which is managing the programme, describes the decision to reactivate the FNI as "good news”.

But some researchers are critical of the programme, arguing that only a very limited number of scientists will benefit, and that a more effective way to stimulate science would be to fund research projects rather than provide extra salary for some scientists.

Scientists conducting research in the areas of basic science, social science, biomedical science, technology and agriculture can apply for funds under the programme. More than 700 scientists applied in the last call for applications in 1999, but only 153 were successful. It is expected that this year more scientists, from a wider spectrum of institutions, will apply.

Source: SciDev.Net

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National Fund for Researchers