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[DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania] The Tanzanian government is to launch a programme to train some of its young scientists in India in an attempt to boost its number of young researchers and combat its aging research population.

Minister for food and agriculture, Charles Keenja, said in an interview last week after a five-day visit to India that Tanzania had agreed as a matter of urgency to train young scientists and researchers in India, which was highly advanced technologically compared to other developing countries.

The new programme is set to start immediately, with Tanzanian agricultural experts to be among the first to be sent to India for training.

The crisis in Tanzanian science is highlighted in a recent report by the Stockholm-based International Foundation for Science (IFS). The report, Strengthening Science Capacity in Tanzania, states that, since Tanzanian universities produce few graduates, the average age of researchers at universities and research institutes is rising. As a result, says the IFS, “the continued reproduction of the Tanzanian scientific community is in peril".

According to the government, the problems faced by the research community have been largely the result of cuts in government spending needed to service the country’s national debt. This stood at US$8 billion in mid-2002, and has until recently consumed more than a third of the country’s annual budget.

Last October, however, donor countries agreed to cancel about half of the debt. As part of the debt cancellation programme, Tanzania has agreed to use the money saved to pay for education, water and other social services, such as housing and road construction.

According to the minister for foreign affairs and international co-operation, Jakaya Kikwete, Tanzania has much to learn from India. The delegation to India, which was headed by the Tanzanian president, Benjamin Mkapa, visited a number of industries, including the aircraft industry. In April, the two governments will set up a Partnership Commission that will oversee the relationship between the two nations, and will enlarge the training programme.

Universities in Tanzania face a lack of financial resources “that results in underpaid staff, reduced numbers of scholarships, overcrowded and deteriorating facilities, constrained research activities and shortages of scientific equipment”, according to the IFS report.

Recruitment of young staff to universities was “marginal” in the 1990s, it states, following the implementation of structural adjustment programmes required by international donors. However, a moratorium imposed on the recruitment of new staff was lifted last year, with the result the some critical positions are now being filled by the universities.

*  *  *

The International Foundation for Science is requesting feedback from African researchers in order to develop appropriate strategies to retrieve the 'missing generation' of scientists in Africa.

In particular, IFS would appreciate knowing the following:

a) What is the age structure of the academic staff at your department?
b) If there is a shortage of 'young' (below 40 years of age) academic staff; what is the reason?
c) How could the situation be remedied?
d) What could IFS do?

Please send your responses to IFS Director Michael Ståhl ([email protected])