Chile's sweet deal for British research pound-stretchers

Minister lauds cost-effective UK and seeks partners for research centre. Elizabeth Gibney writes

July 19, 2012

Credit: Alamy
Aspiration nation: Chile wants to see its institutions in the world's top 150

The Chilean government is offering up to $10 million (£6.5 million) in a bid to encourage UK researchers to found an institute in the country.

Chile has opened four applied research centres in the past year in collaboration with overseas partners and now wants to involve the UK, said Harald Beyer, Chile's minister for education.

"We are beginning to look for UK institutes. In total we want to bring in around four or five more," he told Times Higher Education.

Under the aegis of the Production Development Corporation (Corfo), centres are founded by foreign universities or research organisations, but receive between $4 million and $10 million in subsidies from the Chilean government.

The existing centres are in applied mathematics (in partnership with France's National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Control); systems biology (with Germany's Fraunhofer Society); food research (with the Netherlands' Wageningen University and Research centre); and mining and metals (with Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation).

Tomás Muller Sproat, the Chilean ambassador to the UK, listed marine and fishing research as potential areas for collaboration. "We've started looking. It's all up for grabs, but we have to identify a UK [proposal] that's better than any other."

Mr Muller said the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre with Boeing, a collaboration between the University of Sheffield and aerospace giants Boeing and other partners including Rolls-Royce, was "spectacular" and an example of what Chile hoped to achieve.

"We want to bring institutes doing this kind of applied research to Chile," said Dr Beyer.

R&D windfall

Chile currently invests just 0.5 per cent of its gross domestic product in research and development, but its economy is growing at a rate of 5 per cent a year, and the government is keen to channel extra cash into R&D and universities.

Dr Beyer, who is also an economist and expert in education policy, said the government aims eventually to have at least three Chilean universities ranked in the world's top 150, although he acknowledged this was unlikely in the short term.

"We don't have a lot of researchers or put in a lot of money, but if you look at the indexes that correct for this, we are the most effective in Latin America," he said.

During a 2-4 July visit to the UK, Dr Beyer met with universities and science minister David Willetts, as well as officials from the Higher Education Funding Council for England and the British Council.

The minister, who was deputy director of Santiago thinktank the Center for Public Studies until he joined the government in December, said there was a lot to admire about the UK academy.

"I like very much the way institutional funds are allocated in the UK," he said. "My personal impression is that if you look at cost-effectiveness, the UK higher education system is the best in the world - you get a lot for the money you spend."

The UK is also the top destination in a scholarship scheme aimed at encouraging Chilean students to study at the world's top 150 universities, he said. Out of the 400 master's and PhD students involved, 100 came to British universities.

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