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[ALGIERS] Algeria is pressing ahead with further increases to its science budget, according to a report presented by the Ministry for Scientific Research at a meeting chaired by the country’s president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
The budget has already increased to one per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) — three times what it was five years ago — and this is expected to increase to 1.2 per cent next year, notes the report.
But, despite these increases, critics say that excessive bureaucracy is forcing research teams to abandon their work, and that the lack of a skilled workforce is preventing new investment from leading to high-calibre output.
The report is a review of Algeria’s 2008–2012 framework, which aims to boost national scientific research and technological development.
The deputy minister for scientific research, Souad Bendjaballah, who presented the report at the meeting, said that 260 research laboratories have been approved, as have 25 new research centres. A national online documentation system has also been launched.
Plans for 2011–2012 include the establishment of a national council for scientific research and technological development, and a number of technology transfer centres.
Researchers acknowledge that Algeria has achieved much since science became a priority in 2007 — probably more than in any other period since the country’s independence in 1962. However, they say that current efforts face several obstacles.
Abdel Malek Rahmani, coordinator of Algeria’s National Council of Higher Education Teachers , told SciDev.Net that a lack of equipment and funds is not the main problem. "Management and operations are the obstacles," he said.
Money alone cannot make up for the lack of supportive environments for research, he added. There has been "non-rational exploitation of resources[in attempting] to move from a primary stage of scientific research to an advanced one".
Mohamed Semati, a geology researcher at the University of Constantine, said: "Administrative red tape is still a major impediment to scientific research, and the main reason for poor results, despite the development strategy that the country is trying to put in place. Many research teams have stopped their work because of the administrative obstacles they face."
The availability of a skilled workforce is another barrier, added Abdul Kadhum Al Aboudi, a professor of nuclear physics at the University of Oran.
"Money is not the main engine for the advancement of scientific research, although it is important. Despite the progress made in the past four years, Algeria has not yet been able to develop a scientific elite who are able to create wealth from scientific research," he said.
Bendjaballah has agreed, stating in a national television interview that the science sector is spending only half the budget it has been allocated, and that many projects are not implemented because they lack an experienced workforce.