About one-third of Mongols are nomadic. With a territory of 1.6 million km2 and a population of just 2.8 million, Mongolia is the most sparsely populated country in the world. Little of the land is arable, as much of the country is covered by arid, unproductive steppes with mountains to the west and north and the Gobi Desert to the south

In June 2007, Mongolia published its Master Plan for S&T for 2007-2020 with UNESCO’s assistance. Mongolia is endowed with a comparatively strong S&T base but it has scarce financial resources and its scientific capacity is largely concentrated in the capital, Ulaanbaatar. Now at an advanced stage of transition to a market economy after the fall of communism in 1990, Mongolia is in danger of seeing its S&T resources underutilized, dissipated or even lost.

One of the top priorities of the Master Plan is to stimulate investment in S&T by increasing the share of non-government resources in funding R&D (currently 10%), fostering greater collaboration among research institutes and universities, and using economic stimuli to foster science–industry cooperation and joint research.

R&D expenditure represented 0.35% of GDP in 2005, down from 1.0% in 1990, and the numbers of scientists and engineers are falling, owing to a combination of lower salaries, obsolete equipment and the generally declining attractiveness of a scientific career in Mongolia. This trend has spilled over into the higher education sector, where student rolls in science and engineering are likewise falling.

At present, all but four of the 51 institutions conducting R&D are government-owned and these lack laboratory facilities. Moreover, the Plan notes that selected research projects do not correspond to market demands and that opportunities are limited for updating and exchanging information. Management and control over government-funded activities are also considered to be ineffective.

The Plan notes that research bodies are not equipped to operate under competitive market conditions and that priority directions for R&D are lacking, leading to a wastage of scarce resources. The country is also dependent on imported foreign technologies and equipment. The Plan proposes systemic reforms to stimulate investment in new knowledge and advanced technologies. It advocates raising awareness of the need for technology among economic stakeholders and enhancing innovation through the constant upgrading of technologies and a technology forecast system. It recommends greater government support for establishing favourable customs duties and tariffs, and calls for intellectual property rights to be enforced.

The Plan outlines research priorities to 2010 in the natural sciences, agricultural sciences, technological sector, medical sciences and social sciences and humanities. In parallel, it advocates financial support for R&D conducted by universities, research institutes and business enterprises to develop both the national priorities for S&T and key technologies.

The Science and Technology Master Plan of Mongolia for 2007–2020 is published by UNESCO’s Beijing Office within UNESCO’s Science Policy Studies series.

Together with STEPAN, UNESCO’s Beijing and Jakarta offices assisted the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science of Mongolia in developing the Master Plan. The Ministry then drafted the Plan, which was approved by the Government of Mongolia in January 2007.

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