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[CAPE TOWN] Support is growing for a bid to persuade the G8+5 nations to fund 1,000 senior research positions in African universities.

The Academic Chairs for Africa initiative would require the rich G8 countries and the emerging economies that now attend the group's gatherings — Brazil, China, India, South Africa and Mexico — to commit US$100m per year over a five-year period.

The initiative is modelled on a ten-year-old Canadian programme to prevent promising academics leaving the country. The African version will be discussed at a meeting of the science academies from the G8+5 countries which takes place in Canada next month (4–5 March).

African chair holders would receive US$100,000 a year, much more than professors are paid in most African universities. They would be expected to train PhDs, mentor young academics and prove that they were using their research to address the UN's Millennium Development Goals.

Appointments would be made on merit and managed by a new international foundation established for that purpose.

The chairs "will ensure that there are academics of world class working in universities in Africa and providing leadership", said Mohamed Hassan, president of the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World (TWAS).

David Strangway, a Canadian geophysicist and member of the executive committee of the International Association of University Presidents (IAUP), who is championing the bid, declined to comment on how likely it is that the Canadian government will put the proposal on the agenda for the G8+5 meeting in June.

So far there is no firm financial commitment from any of the G8+5 countries. But senior officers at the UN, the World Bank and the African Development Bank have expressed their support for it.

Leading academics are also behind it. "I sincerely applaud you for your inspiring initiative," Lu Yongxiang, president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, wrote in a letter to Strangway dated 2 February.

Earlier attempts to get the G8 to fund science in Africa have been unsuccessful. The 2005 G8 meeting in Gleneagles, Scotland, which had promised to boost aid for Africa, failed to make firm promises (see G8 leaders give indirect boost for science in Africa).

At the G8+5 meeting in Muskoka, Canada, on 25–26 June, the Canadian government will need to set an example by putting money on the table from the outset, said Hassan.