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[CAIRO] A comprehensive plan for developing Egyptian science and technology was approved last week at Egypt's first national conference on scientific research.

The strategy is Egypt's first attempt to create an integrated system of scientific research. Relevant national ministries and research institutions have agreed to work together to increase the number of trained scientists in Egypt, and give science a bigger role in the country's development.

The 12-year plan, prepared by Egypt's Ministry of Scientific Research and Academy of Scientific Research in consultation with other ministries and more than 300 scientists, has a working budget of US$8.5 billion. Egypt's cabinet is expected to endorse it in July.

Under the strategy, Egypt will launch postgraduate and other training programmes in disciplines including biotechnology, renewable energy, pharmaceutical science, agriculture, water and information and communication technologies.

Another focus is increasing women's involvement in science, which will be encouraged through conferences and the creation of a database of female researchers to foster networking.

Programmes and workshops to train science policy advisors will also be launched.

"The strategy will create opportunities for Egyptian researchers to develop their professional skills through workshops and training programmes, as well as offering funds for research projects," says biotechnologist Hassan Abdel Aal Moawad of the National Research Center, a former president of Mubarak City for Scientific Research and Technology Applications who helped prepare the plan.

To implement the strategy between 2005 and 2017, the conference approved an increase in government support for scientific research from 0.9 per cent to one per cent of the budget. This is projected to reach a total of US$8.5 billion over the 12 years.

Together with money from the private sector and international organisations, part of this budget will be used to set up a fund for scientific research and technological innovation.

Moawad told SciDev.Net that although the strategy is an important step, it remains to be seen how its scientific research fund will support projects on the ground.

Applied research leading to new products will be a priority for Egyptian science in future. And, to help assess the role of science in national development, studies will be carried on the socio-economic impacts of new technologies.

To encourage the private sector to invest in research and development, the strategy includes setting up 'investors' offices' in research institutes. These will promote opportunities for investing in technology, propose science-based solutions to problems in the industrial sector, and help market the products of applied research.

By arranging meetings, these offices will help build bridges between Egypt's scientific and business communities.

Communicating science to the general public is another aim of the strategy. To achieve this, Egypt will help fund new popular science magazines and books, as well as broadcast programmes about science on television and providing training for science journalists.

As each aspect of the strategy is implemented, it will be evaluated by committees of Egyptian scientists based both in the country and abroad.

The 28-29 May conference also called for the creation of a new body, the Higher Council for Scientific Research and Technology Development, which would include government ministers and scientific and educational experts, and be headed by Egyptian president Mohammed Hosni Mubarak.

Opening the conference, Egypt's prime minister Ahmed Nazif said that the country has 170,000 scientists, or 2,000 per million of the population. The figure for most developing countries, he added, is about 800 per million.

But Amr Ezaat Salama, the minister for higher education and scientific research, pointed out that Egypt's research sector faces major problems, including a lack of connection between science and development policies, limited investment in technology, little legislation in support of science and a lack of 'teamwork'. (see Egypt's academic quarrels are limiting research)

More than 4,000 scientists and science policymakers representing various research institutions in Egypt attended the meeting.

Read more about research and development in SciDev.Net's research and development dossier.