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[HYDERABAD] Developing world science academies should meet and exchange information more often to assess their shared challenges, South Africa's minister for science and technology, Naledi Pandor, said at an international meeting yesterday.

Unless developing countries come together more regularly "we do not have a concrete measure of how our [scientific activity] is advancing", Pandor told a ministerial round-table discussion on new opportunities for collaboration on science, technology and innovation (ST&I) between Africa and India.

Pandor also said that greater links between researchers and policymakers would help developing countries resolve challenges they face, including poverty, disease and environmental degradation.  Science academies "should not be reticent in engaging in policy matters" and giving advice on appropriate technological responses that can help solve these problems, she added.

The meeting followed the opening of the annual meeting of TWAS, The Academy of Sciences for the Developing World, in Hyderabad, India (19–22 October).

Opening the meeting, India's prime-minister, Manmohan Singh, said the developing world is constrained by the lack of science expertise and capacity and that "this is why collaboration among our scientific communities is so very important for each one of our countries".

According to Pandor, one of the key barriers to advancement of science in Africa is the migration of science students abroad and inadequate investment in higher education.

South Africa has not been able to derive the full benefits of networking with its diaspora in the West yet and is now increasingly turning its attention to "attracting scientists of the South to work in countries of the South" and pursuing links with other developing countries.

Current collaboration programmes between South Africa and India include the South Africa–India student exchange, partnerships under the trilateral India–Brazil–South Africa platform, and international science projects such as the Square Kilometer Array project, an international collaboration among 20 countries to build the biggest radio telescope to date.

A joint action plan that emerged at the 2008 India-Africa summit in New Delhi and was launched in March 2010 by the African Union Commission and India has helped forge stronger partnerships between the two regions, said Jean-Pierre Ezin, commissioner of science and technology at the African Union.

The plan includes an open distance-learning programme that allows African students to register online with Indian universities, and four new university institutes for information, communications and technology, and for diamond mining and processing technologies.

India now offers 300 scholarships to African students for post-graduate studies in agriculture in various universities in India, and fellowships for African science researchers.

Read SciDev.Net's daily blog from the annual meeting of TWAS, The Academy of Sciences for the Developing World, in Hyderabad, India (19–22 October)