UNESCO moves forward on international basic sciences programme
22 October 2002
UNESCO’s Executive Board has invited the Director-General to convene an ad hoc expert meeting representative of the various geographical regions to prepare a possible draft preliminary International Basic Sciences Programme. The Board adopted the decision on the last day of its October session on 17 October.

The Commission had before it the Report by the Director-General on the results of the feasibility study on the creation of an international basic sciences programme. The great majority of speakers favoured the option of a worldwide network of centres of excellence in basic research and science education for development, believing it would provide the most appropriate platform for capacity-building in science. The Commission invited Member States to promote the cause of the basic sciences in general and invited the Director-General to report on the outcome of the expert meeting to the next session of the Executive Board in May 2003.

Despite the fact that UNESCO is currently giving priority to water-related issues and the follow-up to the World Summit on Sustainable Development, several Members of the Commission felt the initiative to create an international basic sciences programme was a timely one and called for prompt action. Others offered the services and assistance of their science institutions and leading specialists in the development of any new programme.

Commenting on the disillusionment with science highlighted by the World Conference on Science, the Director of the Division of Basic and Engineering Sciences, Maciej Nalecz, said in an interview last September that ‘what people must not lose sight of is that basic science does serve society, even if it is a gamble and the results take time to reach the public.‘

In the wake of the World Conference on Science, UNESCO pledged to give new impetus to its science education programme. ‘What is important’, according to Mr Nalecz, ‘is that an international basic sciences programme identify new tools to stimulate co-operation and use existing tools effectively. We must resign ourselves to the fact that we have neither the human nor the financial resources to be everywhere at once. We must prioritize. Moreover, the programme must be implemented rapidly. That means using existing structures. In my view, the new programme should identify centres of excellence in different developing regions and focus on upgrading these and making them accessible to large numbers of students from the region.’

Read the full September interview of the Director of the Division of Basic and Engineering Sciences for background.