Cash crisis hits Mexico

August 19, 2005

A survey of Mexican academics has found that low morale and wrangling over funding have reached crisis point.

The Mexican Academy of Sciences sent a questionnaire to members of the Sistema Nacional de Investigadores, a group of elite academics recognised for their contribution to research.

The survey was designed by a specialist polling company in conjunction with the National Autonomous University of Mexico (Unam). Roughly half the 10,000 SNI researchers responded citing lack of funds, job insecurity and widespread frustration with the work of the National Council for Science and Technology (Conacyt), the state agency that oversees the national science framework, among their greatest concerns.

Some specialists claim that scientific research in Mexico - 83 per cent of which is carried out in higher education institutions and more than half of which is carried out at Unam - has been starved of money for years. Many blame the Government for its failure to meet its goal of investing at least 1 per cent of gross domestic product in science.

Octavio Paredes, director of the academy, told The Times Higher : "We are not trying to make a war with Conacyt but we wanted to draw attention to the damage that the funding crisis has done to research and development. We are going to use the results of the survey to formulate a new science and technology policy. Every candidate in next year's presidential election will receive a copy."

But Conacyt denied that funding was a problem. "The argument about funding is nothing new," director Jaime Avila Parada said. "Investment is increasing... and we hope to meet the 1 per cent target before the end of next summer.

"As for the complaints about Conacyt in general... we have our own study that shows approval ratings of more than 70 per cent." But inquiries by The Times Higher suggest that there is widespread dissatisfaction with Conacyt, which is responsible for awarding grants to more than 2,000 Mexicans studying abroad.

Salvador Venegas, a PhD candidate in quantum computation at Oxford University, said: "Conacyt says it wants young scientists to return after their studies but there is a generation of researchers who are not going to find a job if and when they come home."

Dr Paredes added: "To realise another of President Vicente Fox's goals - to transform Mexico into a knowledge-based economy - we need to create an environment where people want to work and where there are jobs. The science and technology law passed in 2002 stipulates that money should be available to the sector but the past years have been like a drought. "

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