Algeria to open research sector to foreign scientists

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[ALGIERS] Over the next five years, the Algerian government plans to open its science sector to researchers from mainly developing countries, according to its draft science strategy.

By doing so, it aims to reverse the country’s brain drain, and to regain industry trust in the capacity of public research expertise to produce practical solutions to Algeria’s development and economic health.  

Algeria’s previous science strategy, for the period 2008–2012, raised the 2012 budget for research to 1.2 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) — about three times what it was five years ago, and significantly more than the region’s 0.2 per cent national average.

The new strategy, for 2013–2017, aims to maintain funding at 1.2 per cent, and to tackle Algeria’s key research challenges: reversing brain drain and rebuilding public trust in expertise, in part by tapping into foreign talent. Research geared towards innovation and technological development will also be central to the strategy, which is due to be discussed in the parliament’s current session.

Being more open to the experience and expertise offered by foreign researchers is a challenge for Algeria, said Abdel Hafidh Aouragh, director of scientific research and technological development in Algeria’s Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, during an interview with the Algeria Press Service last month (21 August).

However, he emphasised that "opening [up] to international talent must also ensure greater mobility for Algerian researchers […] and create numerous partnerships around sustainable projects".

The 2008–2012 science strategy successfully built a strong scientific research infrastructure, Mokhtar Sellami, director of research programming and prospective studies at the ministry, told SciDev.Net. The main deficit was now in human resources, he said.   

Between 2008 and 2012, Sellami explained, Algeria established 25 research centres, 260 well-equipped laboratories, and four experimental stations. It also established a national council for scientific research and technological development, and a number of technology transfer centres.

But the country has only 480 researchers per million citizens, compared to the global average of 1,080, he added. For this reason, "we are working on overcoming all barriers that cause brain drain, such as administrative bureaucracy and the low economic status of researchers," said Sellami.

Sufyan Akon, a researcher at the University Mentouri Constantine, in north-eastern Algeria, told SciDev.Net that investors have little faith in Algerian research centres’ capacity for producing useful scientific innovation and research, and see investment as "risky". But, he said, "bringing qualified foreign researchers to Algeria may strengthen [investors’] confidence in local scientific production".  

Abdel Malek Rahmani, coordinator of Algeria’s National Council for Higher Education Professors (CNES), told SciDev.Net that there was a "fragile situation" because of failures to match increasing student numbers with sufficient lecturer numbers.

Another issue was that university professors — who represent the largest number of researchers in Algeria — were engaged in teaching rather than research work. "This needs to be changed to make a good use of such qualifications," Rahmani said.