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The British government has rejected calls for a coordinated donor strategy for scientific capacity building in Africa and for a new grant-giving body supporting research relevant to international development in UK institutions.

However, it has agreed to further encourage its departments to work together to support science for development. The government has also agreed to better coordinate its activities in this field with other national and international efforts.

The government's position was laid out today (24 January) in its response to a report of the parliamentary science and technology committee on the use of science in British policy on international development, published in October 2004 (see UK aid efforts 'need a new scientific culture').

Among the committee's recommendations were calls for more collaboration, both nationally and internationally.

The government said dialogue and coordination on the role of science in development policies was either already underway or increasing between bodies such as the Department for International Development, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the British Council, and the Office for Science and Technology.

The response also states that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will assist the Department for International Development in its new role representing the United Kingdom on the United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development.

It adds that emphasis on the role of science in supporting economic growth is likely to grow and that the government "agrees that this is an area for a concerted approach with other donors".

In its October report, the committee also urged the government to call for "a major collective international effort with a long–term horizon" to build science and technology capacity in developing countries – with a focus on Africa – and to commit extra funding specifically to address this.

The government, however, says that problems facing African scientific institutions should be addressed by African countries' national policies rather than being driven by donors.

"The needs, existing international architecture and current support for different aspects of science and technology also vary considerably, making a single Africa-wide initiative inappropriate," said the government response.

The government also rejected the committee's proposal that a special board be established to award grants for research relating to international development carried out at UK institutions. The committee had estimated such a fund would require £100 million (US$190 million) each year.

Instead, the government will set up a small working group to assess the potential role and structure of a board that would advise the government on how to fund research pertaining to international development.

Paul Spray, head of research for the Department for International Development, says the aim is to avoid any unnecessary duplication that creating a new funding body could cause. "What we're not doing is closing the door to additional funds."

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