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[BUENOS AIRES] Argentina has launched a scheme that will allow publicly funded scientists to work in the private sector for up to four years. The move is intended to boost the scientific community's involvement with industry, and thus help reduce the country's dependency on foreign technology.

The 'Scientists in Companies' programme was launched last month by the ministry of education, science and technology. It permits scientists employed by CONICET, the country's national council for science and technology, to work full time on applied research and development projects in private companies.

The scientists will continue to receive a salary from CONICET. In addition, however, they will receive at least 50 per cent extra from the company that they work for. They will be permitted to start their own technology-based company, or work in an existing company, for up to four years. After that period they must decide whether to return to CONICET or remain with the company.

"The initiative allows companies to use experienced scientists, and also to access all CONICET's knowledge," says Graciela Ciccia, director of the CONICET office that runs the programme. "We want to show [the private sector] the benefits of investing in local research." 

Ciccia admits that tension may develop between scientists involved in the programme — who will therefore receive higher wages — and those who continue to work in CONICET laboratories. But she argues that, "as participation is voluntary, choosing to enter the programme simply shows the path that a researcher wants to follow in his or her career".

So far, 40 agreements have been reached between companies and CONICET as part of the initiative.

According to Ciccia, the programme is unlikely to lead to a mass exodus of scientists from CONICET to industry. But even if that did occur, "it's better than [the scientists] leaving to work in industry in a foreign country," she says. "Furthermore, if some researchers go permanently into business, that will open up vacancies for new scientists here, and therefore make the market more dynamic."

Link to the programme’s website