04/06/03

New president promises to boost Argentinean science

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[BUENOS AIRES] Argentina’s new president Néstor Kirchner has promised to double spending on science and technology by the end of his government’s four-year term, increasing it from 0.42 per cent to 1 per cent of gross domestic product.


The promises sound like good news for researchers. But many scientists remain cautious. Martín Isturiz, an immunologist at Argentina’s science and technology council (CONICET), says that Kirchner’s plan addresses “familiar and old demands made by researchers, such as the employment of young scientists”. But the real question, he says, is “how funds to implement changes will be obtained”.


Kirchner, who took over the presidency on 25 May, has also pledged to encourage more young people to enter scientific professions in an attempt to reduce the average age of Argentina’s researchers, most of whom are in their 50s.


The new president also plans to improve links between science, industry and the financial sector, and to provide funding to increase the transfer of scientific and technological knowledge from universities to industry.


The country is currently facing one of the most severe economic crises in its history. Its economy shrank 11 per cent last year after the government defaulted on its huge debt in late 2001.


“The main challenge is to [make the government] consider science and technology to be a state policy issue,” says Isturiz. “Each change of government has harmed the country’s scientific system.”


Patricio Garrahan, president of Ciencia Hoy Association, which promotes science communication in Argentina, underlines the difficulties facing young Argentinean researchers. “The brain drain of young scientists is a big problem for Argentinean science”, he says. But he too is cautious about what the new government will do about this issue.


The new government has also said that it is keen to encourage collaboration between research groups from different Argentinean provinces in an attempt to create a more balanced and integrated nationwide programme of science and technology.