Argentina breathes new life into its science base

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[BUENOS AIRES] The Argentinean government has launched an ambitious programme to increase the number of researchers in state-run laboratories and research facilities, boost pay for scientists, and increase funds for regional research projects.

Under the new programme, Conicet, Argentina’s largest research agency, will recruit 1,400 new doctoral and postdoctoral researchers and 550 new research assistants, representing an increase of more than 60 per cent and 120 per cent respectively.

Furthermore, all Conicet researchers will get a pay rise. Doctoral researchers will receive a 45 per cent increase in their monthly wages, from US$246 to US$356, while postdoctoral researchers will receive a 37 per cent raise, and research assistants a 44 per cent increase.

In recent years, budget constraints have prevented Conicet from hiring new scientists. As a result, the average age of the organisation’s researchers is 50, with very few openings for young people. The new researchers — with an average age of 32 — will help to redress this balance.

The funds to help expand Conicet come from a 30 million peso (around US$10 million) increase in the organisation’s budget that was approved by the Argentinean Congress last year, and 7 million pesos (US$2.4 million) reallocated from other areas by the government.

The new programme also includes the creation of so-called ‘Federal Funds for Productive Innovation’, which will help finance provincial institutions, universities, companies and nongovernmental organisations. The funds will provide up to 300,000 pesos (about US$100,000) to each province for three years to support science and technology projects intended to help regional communities.

Announcing the initiative, Argentina’s President Néstor Kirchner said that “it is not possible for the country to achieve independence and growth if we not develop and promote research”.

The announcement has been well received in the local scientific community. “It does not solve all our problems, but it is certainly a big step forward in building a good national scientific structure,” says Anahí Ballot, secretary of research at the University of Quilmes.

The mathematician Hugo Scolnik, one of the founders and professors of the computing department at the University of Buenos Aires, says that even though the new programme can be considered a “turning point”, several things still have to change. “Conicet is sometimes slow in acting and bureaucratic,” says Scolnik. “But this decision is on the right path.”