Ecuador plans extra funds for science

Montalvo: "The strategy marks a milestone for our country" Copyright: Senacyt

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[QUITO] Ecuador’s science spending will rise over the next five years, with more funds being channelled into training, according to plans awaiting budgetary approval.

Health and energy are areas that stand to benefit most under the proposed policy changes, which will run from 2011 to 2014.

The plans, drawn up by the National Secretariat of Science and Technology (Senacyt), and approved by president Rafael Correa, are awaiting the final green light from the National Planning Secretariat (SENPLADES), which has overall control of the budget.

Science minister Pedro Montalvo told SciDev.Net: "[The strategy] marks a milestone for our country because when we finish our management of this government [in January 2013], the research process will have started and Ecuadorians won’t let it stop."

But some researchers question the government’s funding commitments. "I don’t think Senacyt can fulfil such an ambitious strategy because history has shown us otherwise," said Rolando Sáenz, research chief at the Mathematics Centre of the Central University of Ecuador.

Before the strategy kicks off, Senacyt aims to spend US$35 million on science in 2010 — US$4 million more than last year. The government has not set a budget for the 2011–2014 strategy, but insists funding will increase.

Ecuador has suffered many ups and downs in science and technology investment over the years. Until 2005, average annual investment was just 0.07 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), though Senacyt figures show this rose to 0.44 per cent in 2009.

In early 2009, the government announced a science budget for that year of US$76 million but this was later withdrawn. Montalvo later clarified that the budget would be implemented progressively over three years (see Ecuador suffers science budget cut — again).

Training researchers has increasingly become an important component of the government’s spending on science. Almost 200 scholarships were awarded annually in the past two years compared to just 22 per year over the previous 13 years. By 2013, it is hoped 1,500 students will travel abroad on research scholarships.

Soledad Benitez, a post-doctorate researcher at the Army Polytechnic School in Quito, said it was important that there is a fair and transparent process for allocating research funding under the strategy.

"The selection process and the contest must be legitimate and there should be equal opportunities for all universities in public and private research."