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Science for Development in the South


Third World Academy of Sciences (TWAS)
Committee on Science and Technology in Developing Countries (COSTED)

prepared by

Prof. D. Balasubramanian
Director of Research
Hyderabad Eye Research Foundation, India

Helpful suggestions received from Prof. A.M. Cetto, Prof. M.H.A. Hassan, Prof. Lu Y.X., Prof. C.N.R. Rao, Prof. J.I. Vargas, Prof. S.O. Wandiga and Dr. V. Zharov are gratefully acknowledged.


As the World Conference on Science discusses matters relating to the use of science for development in the South, the issue of resource allocation would loom large. Professor Abdus Salam (in the book ‘Worldwide Science and Technology Advice to the Highest Levels of Government’) and UNESCO have suggested that the Science & Technology investment of each country of the South be at least 1% of its gross national product (GNP) and that this S & T budget be at least 16% of the education budget.

We strongly recommend that governments of the South take this advice seriously and commit this fraction of their gross national product (GNP) as their national science and technology (S & T) investment.

In this context, it is well to recount a few examples of successful governmental actions in support of national science. Some nations in the South have wisely set up separate ministries of science and technology at the federal and provincial levels. This move has paid off handsomely in giving S & T as much importance as other sectors such as finance, food, law or transport. The ministry has separate departments such as biotechnology, scientific and industrial research, oceanography and so on. In such an arrangement, the national government has been able to set up councils for science education, research and technology forecasting, and the ministry is able to operate both with a legislated annual budget and a longer term (typically five-year chunks) plan budget.

This idea of a separate science ministry is worth emulating.

On the front of developing human resources and building world- class centres of excellence, some nations of the South (Thailand, India, South Korea, Kuwait- to name some illustrative examples) have taken a lead and established academic institutions for teaching, research and development in science, technology, medicine and agriculture. These have well-endowed budgets, flexible curricula, research as an essential component, and with faculty chosen from the best available and students chosen strictly on merit. Within a short period, these have risen to be in the top bracket in their fields worldwide, and exemplify what can be done with national commitment.

This idea of breeding and spawning national centres that compete with the best in the world is worth pursuing by other South nations.

It pays the country back not only in terms of self-confidence and reliance, but will also spur the country to compete in the chosen field in the world arena.

There are other novel avenues that some South nations have explored in the promotion of scientific talent in its students that are noteworthy. Just as some countries have decided to train their athletes and sports persons to compete and win as many medals as possible in the World Olympics by catching them young, others have caught their students young and encouraged them to compete and win in the International Mathematics Olympiad. An informal Chemistry Olympiad is being conducted by the American Chemical Society. Poland has a similar scheme, open to all secondary school students around the world, called "The First Step to the Nobel Prize in Physics". Such efforts not only help build talent pools in science in the countries, but also raise the standards of performance and the goals to be achieved. They have the further effect of improving the curricula, teaching standards and laboratory facilities in schools and colleges, while infusing a sense of national pride.


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