United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
Unesco Sitemap
Natural Sciences Sector
World Conference on Science

Back to WCS Newsletter Home Page

Contributions to this Newsletter may be sent to:   wcs-newsletter@unesco.org  Fax: (33)1 4568 5823

UNESCO and WHO to join forces in combating emerging diseases
Top of page

12 June 2003 - UNESCO and the WHO are to strengthen collaboration in the field of emerging diseases. This is one recommendation of a meeting held on 17 and 18 May which has also called for greater collaboration between veterinary and human medicine, in view of the animal-to-human transmission of several important pathogenic factors such as the human-variant Creuzfeld Jacob Disease and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which was identified only earlier this year.

The seminar on Basic Sciences and Emerging Pathogenic Factors was held at the Science Centre of the Polish Academy in Paris (France) and co-organized by UNESCO and the European Academy of Arts, Sciences and Humanities (EAASH), with the participation of scientists from WHO, FAO and the International Office of Epizooties.

A roundtable led by Prof. Jeanne Bugère-Picoux, a French specialist in animal pathology, focused on what is commonly referred to as 'mad cow disease'. This is part of the larger family of transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs), or prion diseases. Researchers presented the latest findings on TSEs, which are a group of rare degenerative brain disorders characterized by microscopic holes that give the brain a 'spongy' appearance. 'Mad cow disease' crossed the species barrier to infect humans after animal remains were introduced into the cows' feed in the UK in the 1980s.

A group led by Dr Diego Buriot, Director of WHO's Lyon office in France, focused on emerging viral diseases like SARS and viral hemorrhagic fevers like Ebola. These viral fevers generally attack several organs, while damaging the body's ability to regulate itself. The symptoms are often accompanied by bleeding. Many of these viruses cause severe, life-threatening disease and most are zoonotic, which means that they 'jump' to humans from animal hosts, mainly rodents and insects like ticks and mosquitoes.

Emerging bacterial diseases were the focus of a second group led by Prof. Brugère-Picoux. Ticks are currently considered to be second only to mosquitoes as vectors of human infectious diseases in the world. In the USA, for example, more than 16,000 people contract Lyme disease each year after being bitten by infected deer ticks.

If vaccine development is a time-consuming and costly undertaking at present, the seminar considered that the development of new vaccines would prove to be a cost-effective way of preventing infectious diseases in the long term thanks to new advances in molecular biology. Since economic factors influence pharmaceutical companies in developed countries, new vaccines will only be developed if there is market for them in the developed world. This obviously poses a serious problem for poorer countries afflicted by 'orphan' diseases like Ebola or malaria which have no market value in the North. Currently, 80% of vaccines are produced by just 4 pharmaceutical companies.

In light of the importance of establishing and boosting local research and diagnostic capacities, the meeting identified UNESCO as an important player in promoting research into human and animal infections and the development of new therapeutic tools.

Are there more diseases today than a century ago? Possibly not. What is new is that environmental and climatic changes, coupled with overexploitation of natural reserves, are augmenting human exposure to disease reservoirs and vectors in nature. Moreover, globalization has influenced the spread of infectious diseases throughout the world, as the spread of SARS has most recently demonstrated. It is thus vital to strengthen both the global surveillance system for infectious diseases and the open exchange of information concerning epidemics. UNESCO and WHO are keen to foster global networks in epidemiology and research into infectious diseases and emerging pathogenic factors.

UNESCO and WHO can play a role in educating and informing the public about infectious diseases and their means of propagation. There is also a need to address some cultural practices which influence the spread of diseases in human and animal populations, such as traditional burial customs or practices for food and animal feed production.

The seminar was organized in the light of the decision by UNESCO's Director-General Mr Koïchiro Matsuura, for the European Academy of Arts, Sciences and Humanities to collaborate with UNESCO and contribute towards implementation of Item 26 of the Science Agenda-Framework for Action, which states, 'all countries should share scientific knowledge and cooperate to reduce avoidable ill-health throughout the world. Each country should assess and so identify the health improvement priorities that are best suited to their own circumstances. National and regional research programmes aimed at reducing variations in health among communities, such as collecting good epidemiological and other statistical data and communicating corresponding best practice to those who can use it, should be introduced'.

Maciej Nalecz, Director of UNESCO's Division of Basic and Engineering Sciences, will be meeting Diego Buriot in July to discuss concrete measures for fresh collaboration.

For further information, contact: l.hoareau@unesco.org

Consultation on Declaration on Human Genetic Data (Français)
Top of page

6 May 2003 UNESCO's Executive Board took stock last month of progress in preparing an International Declaration on Human Genetic Data. Elaborated by UNESCO’s International Bioethics Committee (IBC), the text seeks to reconcile freedom of research with respect for human dignity and privacy. It is presently the subject of an international consultation.

Government experts will be meeting to discuss the project on 25-27 June, paving the way for its adoption by UNESCO's General Conference (bringing together all 188 Member States) in September.

The Declaration falls within the continuation of the Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights adopted by the General Conference in 1997.

Consultation relative à la Déclaration sur les données génétiques humaines
Top of page

6 mai 2003 Le Conseil exécutif de l'UNESCO a fait le point le mois dernier des progrès réalisés dans la préparation d'une Déclaration internationale sur les données génétiques humaines. Elaboré par le Comité international de bioéthique (CIB) de l'UNESCO, le texte cherche à concilier la liberté de la recherche et le respect de la dignité humaine et de la vie privée. Il fait à présent l'objet d'une consultation internationale.

Des experts gouvernementaux se réuniront du 25 au 27 juin pour discuter du projet et poser des jalons en vue de son adoption en septembre par la Conférence générale de l'UNESCO (qui rassemblera l'ensemble de ses 189 Etats membres).

La Déclaration s'inscrit dans le cadre de la poursuite de la Déclaration universelle sur le génome humain et les droits de l'homme, adoptée par la Conférence générale en 1997.

UNESCO prepares study on virtual universities (version française)
Top of page

25 April 2003 At a time when distance learning is emerging as a means of helping universities to tackle pressing challenges, UNESCO's International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP) is exploring related policy and planning issues faced by universities. Challenges include the growing demand for higher education, declining resources and ever-more diverse student profiles. UNESCO is involved in a number of distance learning projects. In 2001 for example, UNESCO's Jakarta Office and ASEAN launched the ASEAN Virtual University of Science and Technology, a consortium of the region's leading universities which will ultimately expand into virtual joint research and development with the public and private sectors. In the same region, Chonbuk National University in the Republic of Korea hosts the UNESCO Centre for IT-based Science Education. And only last month, UNESCO launched the Avicenna Virtual Campus, a consortium of distance-learning centres in 15 European and Mediterranean countries. The European Commission is contributing 3.7 million euros to the project.

The World Conference on Science considered that the information and communication revolution offered new and more effective means of exchanging scientific knowledge and advancing education and research (Declaration, para. 15). Technologies based on new methods of communication, information handling and computation have brought unprecedented opportunities and challenges for the scientific endeavour as well as for society at large.

UNESCO's involvement in promoting virtual research and teaching environments in recent years implements the recommendation in paragraph 21 of the Science Agenda that research and education institutions 'take account of the new information and communication technologies, assess their impact and promote their use, for example through the … establishment of virtual research and teaching environments or digital libraries.'

Les universités virtuelles à l'étude par l'UNESCO (English version)
Top of page

25 avril 2003 A une époque où l'enseignement à distance voit le jour comme un moyen d'aider les universités à s'attaquer à des défis préoccupants, l'Institut international de l'UNESCO pour la planification de l'éducation (IIPE) explore actuellement les questions de politique et de planification auxquelles les universités ont à faire face pour relever ces défis. Parmi ceux auxquels le secteur tertiaire se trouve confronté, on peut citer : une demande croissante d'enseignement supérieur, des ressources qui périclitent et des étudiants présentant un profil de plus en plus diversifié. L'UNESCO participe à un certain nombre de projets d'enseignements à distance. En 2001 par exemple, le Bureau de l'UNESCO à Djakarta et l'ANASE ont créé l'Université virtuelle de science et de technologie de l'ANASE, consortium d'universités de premier rang de la région qui, en bout de ligne, s'étoffera aux secteurs public et privé en vue de travaux de recherche et d'activités de développement virtuels conjoints. Dans la même région, l'Université nationale de Chonbuk, en République de Corée, abrite le centre UNESCO pour l'enseignement des sciences, axé sur les technologies de l'information. Pas plus tard que le mois dernier, l'UNESCO a lancé le campus virtuel d'Avicenne, consortium de centres d'enseignement à distance répartis dans 15 pays européens et autour de la méditerranée. La Commission européenne finance le projet à hauteur de 3.7 millions d'Euros.

La Conférence mondiale sur la science a estimé que la révolution de l'information et de la communication avaient offert des moyens nouveaux et plus efficaces de faire partager le savoir scientifique et de faire progresser l'enseignement et la recherche (Déclaration, para. 15). Des technologies axées sur de nouvelles méthodes de communication, sur la gestion et l'informatisation de l'information ont créé pour la science - de même que pour la société dans son ensemble - des occasions et des défis inégalés jusque là.

La participation de l'UNESCO au cours des dernières années à la promotion de la recherche virtuelle et des environnements éducatifs traduit la recommandation de l'Ordre du jour de la Science au titre du paragraphe 21, à savoir que les institutions de recherche et d'enseignement 'prennent en considération les nouvelles technologies d'information et de communication, évaluent leur impact et encouragent leur utilisation, par exemple grâce à… la mise en place d'environnements de recherche et d'enseignement virtuels ou de bibliothèques numériques'.

Fostering Science and Technology Policy in Senegal  

18 March 2002 - The reinforcement of national capacity in science and technology policies is the major goal of a project being implemented in Senegal with support from UNESCO. The Project, launched in 2001 by the Ministry of Education, focuses on the promotion of science and technology policies that seek to coordinate the efforts of the research and industrial sectors and so derive full benefit from them.

To this end, an effort is being made to identify and apply approaches that would foster:

  • the creation of small- and medium-scale enterprises and industries benefiting from the fruits of national research,
  • partnership between enterprises, universities and research centres,
  • a favourable environment for improving research and the infrastructures for making use of its outcome in industry.

This kind of project is being given priority within the follow-up to WCS foreseen in the Programme and Budget of UNESCO for 2002-2003. The Organization envisages the reinforcement of its programme in S&T policies, in particular through the development of human and national/sub-regional institutional capacities for the management of S&T resources for socio-economic development.

The Science Agenda – Framework for Action, approved by the WCS, points out that national policies should be adopted in order to provide consistent and long-term support for S&T, especially through the strengthening of the human resources base, integration of science into the national culture, and development of infrastructures and promotion of technology and innovation capacities. National authorities and the private sector should support university–industry partnerships that also involve research institutes and small and micro-enterprises, and so accelerate returns from science and generate benefits for all.

The project in Senegal directly responds to these expectations and embraces action that addresses public policy in innovation systems. It envisages the strengthening of capacities of the nation’s DESR (Délégation de l’enseignement supérieur et de la recherche scientifique) in the management of innovations; the organization of national training workshops with the participation of international experts; studies abroad of national experts; the acquisition of software, information materials and training aids; the preparation of a university course; and the setting up of university units for co-operation with small enterprises. UNESCO is currently a major sponsor of the Project. Exchange of experiences and co-operation with partners that may be interested to join UNESCO in supporting the project would be welcome.

For further information contact the Division of Science Analysis and Policies, Sector of Natural Sciences, UNESCO;
e-mail: f.osotimehin@unesco.org

In the quest for strategies to increase participation of women in Physics


4 March 2002 - A major international Conference on Women in Physics is to be held at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris on 7-9 March 2002. The event is being organized by the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP) in co-operation with a wide range of sponsors from France, Japan, the UK, the USA, as well as international bodies such as European Commission, European Science Foundation (ESF), European Physical Society (EPS), the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP), Latin American Centre for Physics (CLAF) and UNESCO.

The principal goal of the Conference is to understand the causes of severe under-representation of women in Physics world-wide and to develop major strategies to increase their participation in this basic area of science that underlies the progress in many other areas of modern science and high technology. Some 300 participants from over 60 countries are expected to take part in the brain-storming talks that will stem from plenary presentations by women scientists from Brazil, China, Egypt, France, Germany, India, Japan, Russia, the UK and the USA.

The Science Agenda - Framework for Action approved by the WCS urged governments, international organizations, universities and research institutions to ensure the full participation of women in the planning, orientation, conduct and assessment of research activities. In his letter to Professor Burton Richter, President, IUPAP, Walter Erdelen, Assistant Director-General for Natural Sciences, UNESCO, emphasized that the IUPAP Conference will be one of the series of important events responding to the recommendations of WCS.

Key topics to be discussed include learning from regional differences; improving the institutional structure and climate for women in Physics; balancing family and career, attracting girls into Physics, launching a successful Physics career and getting women into the Physics power structure - nationally and internationally. Physicists from around the world will be able to take ideas, strategies and conference recommendations back to their countries, and hopefully catalyse tangible action for positive change. Experience gained from the IUPAP Conference will clearly be instructive and useful for many other branches of sciences.

For further information, write to: r.clair@unesco.org

UK commits to radical reduction of greenhouse gas emissions
Top of page

26 February 2003 The United Kingdom has published a White Paper on energy in which it announces its intention to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60% by 2050.

This commitment goes beyond the Kyoto Protocol adopted in 1997, which calls for industrial countries to reduce emissions by 5% to pre-1990 levels by 2012. According to the French daily newspaper, Le Monde, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Tony Blair, declared on 24 February, the day the White Paper was published, that 'It is clear that Kyoto is not radical enough'.

Mr Blair went on to say that 'In the United Kingdom, we have shown that it is possible to achieve economic growth without augmenting pollution in parallel. Thanks to new technologies, we have managed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 5% since 1997 in the United Kingdom, even as the economy has grown by 17% over the same period. We are continuing to explain … that climate change is a serious threat that the international community must tackle. There can be no true security if the planet is ravaged by climate change'.

Mr Blair is cited by Le Monde as saying that he and the Swedish Prime Minister, Goeran Persson, have written a letter to the Greek Prime Minister, Costas Simitis (Greece currently presides the European Union), asking that Europe commit to adopting the same target of a 60% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

The White Paper also sets the target of producing 20% of energy using renewable sources (water, wind, biomass, etc.) by 2020. The United Kingdom is to invest an additional 100 million pounds (€150 million) in favour of renewable energies; it also plans to apply exemptions and fiscal incentives, and to make it easier to construct land- and sea-based wind-energy generators. One-third of the winds in Europe blow across the British Isles.

The White Paper endorses a recommendation by the World Conference on Science 'that the public and private sectors at national and international levels support strongly 'S&T research on clean and sustainable technologies, recycling, renewable energy resources and efficient use of energy' (para. 35 Science Agenda).

In 2010, the United Kingdom will become a net importer of energy for the first time since the Industrial Revolution, which began over two hundred years ago. Today, electricity in the United Kingdom is supplied by natural gas (37%), coal (33%), nuclear power (22%) and renewable energies (<3%). The United Kingdom does not foresee the construction of any new nuclear plants, although this option is not formally excluded.

Source: Le Monde dated 26 February 2003

E-learning comes to India’s blind
Top of page

5 February 2003 - The first e-learning centre for the blind in India opened its doors on 22 November at the National Council of Education Research and Training in New Delhi, India. The centre is the first in a series of institutions which will ultimately bring distance learning to more than 2 million blind children.

Ten 10 Braille terminals have been installed in the centre and connected to the ten work-stations on the Local Area Network. A ZOOM text software and Braille printer complete the equipment. The project officer, Mohamed Miloudi, UNESCO expert in distance education, spent 22 and 23 November training staff at the center, technicians, educators and persons working with visually impaired children how to use the SAID-SYSTEM and WebSAID (which use Windows and Internet respectively). The technologies were also demonstrated to the representatives of each of India’s states and to various organisations, such as the National Institute for the Visually Handicapped and Indian Association for Special Education and Rehabilitation. UNESCO has contributed US$115,000 in project costs to the Indian Government.

The Asia-Pacific region has by far the largest number of children with special education needs in the world. Poverty, accident and malnutrition are some of the causes. Owing to the large numbers, the region has been slow in providing quality education to all children and young persons with special needs.

One in five Indians are school-age children. And one in ten of these 200 million children have special needs. It is estimated that there are more than 2 million blind children in India. It is thus crucial for the country’s socio-economic development to introduce more efficient educational and training methods.

One of the obstacles delaying introduction of Braille technology into India until now has been the cost of the technology. By designing a low-cost technology that can be manufactured within India, Miloudi has overcome that. The new technology gives the blind access to computer software and hardware developed especially for their needs, such as the tactile screen which fixes onto the PC and uses the standard keyboard. The system also repeats aloud each letter typed on computers equipped with speakers. Besides bringing knowledge to their fingertips, the new technology enables the visually impaired to communicate via e-mail to correspondents around the world.

The next step of the Indian project, launched in November 2001, will to be set up an open virtual library containing the courses. Existing educational courses will be adapted and made accessible to the visually impaired, in addition to new courses produced for the Indian market. All will be freely accessible on-line.

‘If all goes well, we should see a centre of this type in every Indian state within a few years and a special terminal for the blind installed in every cyber café across the country’, says Miloudi. ‘The idea is also to replicate the Indian experience in other countries of Asia and the Pacific’.

Since 1996, UNESCO has implemented other projects using Braille technologies in Morocco, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and, most recently, Qatar. The Noor Institute project in Qatar is co-funded by AGFUND and Qatari Bank and was inaugurated by UNESCO’s Director-General, Koïchiro Matsuura on 2 January 2002.

The World Conference on Science called for special efforts to be made 'to ensure the full participation of disadvantaged groups in science and technology'. These should include removing barriers in the education and research systems, the Science Agenda recommends (para. 91).

For further information, contact: M. Miloudi, or go to: New Delhi Field Office

SESAME breaks new ground  

3 February 2003 - At a ground-breaking ceremony on 6 January, UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura announced the official launch of the International Centre for Synchrotron light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East (SESAME). The ceremony celebrated the acceptance of SESAME’s statutes by the seven Founding Members.

His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan laid the cornerstone for the building at Al-Balqa’ Applied University, the future site of SESAME, in the presence of Matsuura and other UNESCO officials, members of the Jordan Cabinet, the Deputy Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Werner Burkart, and other dignitaries.

SESAME’s Founding Members are Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Palestine and Turkey. They now form the SESAME Council which, among other responsibilities, will provide the annual operating budget. Other countries are expected to join soon.

The SESAME Council replaces the International Interim Council that has met nine times since being formed in 1999. Herwig Schopper (former Director-General of the European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN)) has been elected to continue as President of the Council with Khaled Toukan (Minister of Education of Jordan) and Dincer Ulku (Hacettepe University in Turkey) continuing as Vice-Presidents.

The Government of Jordan is providing the site and has agreed to fund the construction of the building, estimated at US$6-8 million; it will house the upgraded BESSY I light source donated by Germany, which is now in Jordan. The upgraded ring will be in the 2-2.5 GeV range. The building has been designed by civil engineers from Al-Balqa’ Applied University on the basis of the ANKA synchrotron radiation facility at the Karlsruhe Research Center. With the bidding process now over, construction is due to begin soon.

SESAME is an independent laboratory created under the auspices of UNESCO in much the same way that UNESCO assisted in the creation of CERN 50 years ago.

Six scientific and technical workshops and schools have been held in the Middle East on topics relating to the project and 30 scientists and engineers from the Middle East have spent up to two years working at synchrotron radiation laboratories in Europe and the USA. Financial support for these activities has come from Members of the International Interim Council, UNESCO, synchrotron radiation laboratories in Europe and the USA, IAEA, International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP), US Department of Energy, Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science and other sources.

The SESAME staff currently consists of a Technical Director and Administrative Director. Other appointments are in progress. Four Advisory Committees (Technical, Scientific, Beam Lines, and Training) report to the SESAME Council.

For further information, go to: www.sesame.org.jo

Avicenna virtual campus prepares for first intake
Top of page

31 January 2003 On 9 January, the operational stage of the Mediterranean Avicenna campus was launched at a meeting involving Mohamed Miloudi of UNESCO's Division of Science Policy and Analysis and the 'work-package leaders': the Open University (UK), UNED (Spain) and, in France, the Conservatoire national des arts et metiers, Centre national d'enseignement à distance (CNED) and Université euro-méditerrannée sans murs (UM).

Named after Ibn Sina (981–1037 AD), the most famous physician, philosopher, encyclopedist, mathematician and astronomer of his time, the Avicenna campus involves 15 countries of Western Europe and North Africa. UNESCO is principal co-ordinator of the programme, to which the European Commission contributes €3.7 million through its EUMEDIS programme.

Avicenna comes at a time when the traditional university system in the South can no longer cope with the demand for tertiary education. Strong demographic growth, coupled with economic constraints, has led governments in North Africa and elsewhere to limit enrolment in public universities. Only some of the overflow is being absorbed by foreign and private universities.

Paragraph 20 of the Science Agenda calls upon research and education institutions to ‘take account of the new information and communication technologies, assess their impact and promote their use, for example through the development of electronic publishing and the establishment of virtual research and teaching environments or digital libraries.

The first operational stage of the Avicenna campus will consist of staff training in administration and distance teaching methods. Knowledge officers from the participating centres will be trained in how to interact with the media engineers and professors, while tutors will be shown how to interact with students for a given course. The training will be kicked off by a session run by the CNED and international experts in e-learning on 17 March for the directors of all the Avicenna centres. This will be followed by training of the centres' technical and educational experts, including a session on 30 June organized by the CNED.

At a second stage, existing course materials in scientific and engineering disciplines will be adapted to distance teaching, 5% of which will be adapted for blind students. Each centre will then use

these as a starting point for production of their own materials. 'Cross-fertilization' of the different contents made available by participating universities will be encouraged and credits gained by students from one centre will be acknowledged by other participating universities. The science and engineering courses and virtual library will be made available to a first intake of some 3000 students in January 2004. Their numbers are projected to rise exponentially by 2010.

For further information :www.unesco.org/pao/avicenna/ibnsina.htm

See also WCS Newsletter of 2 November 2000.

Avicenna knowledge centres
légende : The 17 Avicenna knowledge centres (AKC) in 15 countries
ASEAN’s small islands raise their voice
Top of page

27 January 2003 The plight of the Moken is one of several real life situations raised at a workshop in Khuraburi on 25-28 November 2002 on wise coastal practices in Asia and the Pacific. Other than Thailand, the UNESCO-organized meeting also heard cases of two other Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries: the Philippines and Indonesia.

The Moken, the Moklen and the Urak Lawoi are three groups of maritime hunter-gatherers in the Andaman Sea. Their foraging grounds are the coastal areas and islands off Myanmar running south along Thailand and to the Malay Peninsula.

Mesia and her community live in the Surin Islands, 60 km due west from the port town of Khuraburi near the border with Myanmar. Khuraburi is a two-hour drive north of the popular tourist resort of Phuket.

Without identity (ID) cards, the Moken dread civil harassment when they go onshore. With ID cards, they can secure jobs and state-budgeted social rights.

As sea nomads cross-national borders, the Thai authorities are reluctant to issue national ID cards to the Moken although they number only 160 in the Surin Islands. Why?

“With the current conflict situation in Myanmar, the Thai government with national security in mind wouldn’t want to grant citizenship for fear of an influx (of more Moken from Myanmar),” says Dr. Narumon Hinshiranan, an anthropologist at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok whose dissertation was on Moken social and environmental interrelationships.

The Moken dilemma was one of several case studies presented by participants in the workshop on a conflict situation affecting the environment and communities in coastal areas and small islands.

Participants then explored means of managing each conflict with a tool called the wise practice agreement (WPA), a concept developed by UNESCO’s coastal areas and small islands platform (CSI).

Chapter 2.5 of the Science Agenda deals with Science for peace and conflict resolution. In particular, paragraph 51 urges governmental and private funding bodies to 'strengthen or develop research institutions that carry out interdisciplinary research in the areas of peace and the peaceful applications of S&T.'

Source: ASEAN

Indian prime minister pledges to revamp science
Top of page

14 January 2003 India is to make a concerted effort to lure home its scientists from abroad and to strip its scientific agencies of excessive bureaucracy, under a science policy document released recently.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vaijapee unveiled the Science and Technology Policy 2003 policy at the Indian Science Congress in Bangalore on 3 January. Nature reports that Vaiapyee pledged to increase Indian spending on research and development (R&D) by government and industry to at least 2% of gross domestic product (GDP) by 2007, almost double that spent last year. This would place India among the nations of the world which devote the greatest share of GDP to R&D.

In comparison, Western Europe devotes an average 1.8% of GDP to R&D, compared to 2.5% for the USA and 3.0% for Japan (World Science Report, 1998).

Vaijapee appealed to India's ‘scientific diaspora’ to return to the country to help him realize his ‘vision of making India a developed nation’.

The science and technology secretary, Valangiman Ramamurthi, told Nature that ‘the mechanisms will be in place very soon’ to attract home scientists who have left India. He said that the new policy would be rapidly implemented and would give universities and research institutions greater autonomy.

He also said that that increasing Indian spending on R&D to 2% would not be difficult, as spending had already risen from 0.8% in 2000 to 1.08% in 2002.

Nature reports government officials as saying that, under the policy, science-based ministries would be run by scientists and engineers, and other ministries will appoint scientific advisory committees. They also say that selected universities and scientific institutions will receive money to strengthen infrastructure. Details of the funding will be left to a task force being set up to find ways of encouraging private and public investment in research.

The World Conference on Science called on governments to ensure stable funding for public research (para. 14, Science Agenda) and aim for high-quality scientific institutions capable of providing research and training facilities in areas of specific interest (para. 7). Paragraph 41 urges governments to accord the highest priority to improving science education at all levels, to raising public awareness of science and to fostering its popularization The Science Agenda also advocates putting in place adequate participatory mechanisms to facilitate democratic debate on science policy choices (para. 56).

Only recently, Brazilian president-elect Luis Inácio 'Lula' da Silva pledged to double spending on science and technology to 2% of GDP by the end of his government's term (WCS Newsletter, 27 November 2002).

Source: K. S. Jayaraman, Nature (421, 101 (2003)), courtesy of SciDev.Net

Harnessing science to society
Top of page

31 December 2002 An analytical overview of the impact of the World Conference on Science (Budapest, 1999) and of progress achieved in initiating, implementing and developing follow-up. Prepared by UNESCO at the specific request of the Conference itself, the report addresses governments and international WCS partners, as well as all other national and regional bodies interested in taking part in the follow-up process.

The World Conference on Science charted new territory for UNESCO. Drawing on its unique comparative advantage of housing education, natural and human sciences, communications and culture under one roof, UNESCO responded to Budapest by adopting a more integrated approach to problem-solving and the promotion of research and science education through multilateral cooperation.

The Organization’s Medium-Term Strategy for 2002-2007 gives full weight to implementation of the Science Agenda, with special emphasis on ‘freshwater and supporting ecosystems’ and on ‘the ethics of science and technology’ as the absolute priorities respectively of UNESCO’s science and social and human sciences programmes.

It is in its clearing-house capacity that UNESCO has prepared the present analytical report recommended by Budapest, in consultation with its partners. Harnessing science to society is based on information made available to UNESCO by Member States, United Nations specialized agencies, intergovernmental and non-governmental international organizations, regional institutions, science networks, centres of excellence and educational establishments. Naturally, the report also covers UNESCO’s own activity.

Harnessing science to society overviews developments during the two and a half years following the World Conference on Science; it provides a factual basis for assessing the real impact of the Conference. It can be concluded that the Budapest Conference was a worthwhile event; visibly, over the initial period of follow-up, it has inspired many partners to adopt innovative approaches to fostering science. There appears to exist a real need – and an opportunity – to further develop a worldwide partnership that has the potential to multiply the returns on the Conference.

Forward-looking, the report envisages the possibility that UNESCO will launch a comprehensive follow-up consultation with partners in 2004 (Budapest+5) in its capacity as clearing-house. A consultation in 2004 would have the advantage of enabling partners to evaluate collectively the returns on the Conference thus far as well as identify any necessary readjustments to the follow-up strategy.

The political commitment that governments agreed upon in Budapest in 1999 must be sustained if the Conference is to make a lasting difference. Harnessing science to society more effectively is not something that can be achieved overnight. But we cannot afford to let ourselves fall back into a ‘business as usual’ complacency. We must keep up the momentum and that means re-galvanizing our efforts and our collaboration.

The report, prefaced by the Director-General of UNESCO, Koïchiro Matsuura, is now available on-line at: http://www.unesco.org/science/wcs/report_wcs.pdf

UK launches public–private partnership to ‘INSPIRE’ science vocation in schools
Top of page

18 December 2002 The Prime Minister, Tony Blair and Education and Skills Secretary, Estelle Morris have launched a new partnership between the Government, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), the Technology Colleges Trust (TCT) and Imperial College London to boost science education in schools applying to become Science Colleges under the Government’s Specialist Schools Programme.

GSK has committed up to £1 million over the next four years to funding the scheme, which will be known as INSPIRE (INnovative Scheme for Post-docs in Research and Education). Under the programme post-doctoral science researchers (post-docs) from Imperial College who have recently completed their PhDs will spend around half their time in selected specialist science or combined science and engineering schools. At the same time, they will study towards a post-graduate teaching qualification.

Speaking at the special launch of the programme at No.10, Downing Street last summer, Tony Blair gave his strong support to the specialist schools programme and welcomed the partnership of industry, government and higher education, ‘The Government is committed to excellence in science education and I am delighted that GlaxoSmithKline, one of our major science-based companies, and Imperial College are supporting this important initiative. This partnership programme will benefit not only the pupils in the new specialist science schools but also the pupils in their partner schools.

The children of today will be our teachers, our scientists and our doctors tomorrow – by investing in the education of our children now, we are investing in the future of our economy and society.

I would like to see many more specialist schools. We are expanding the number significantly up to 1000 by this September, and at least 1500 by 2005 – half of all secondary schools.

But 1500 is only a staging post. Once it has been achieved, we will advance decisively in extending the opportunity for more schools to achieve specialist status. We want to see all schools that are capable of becoming specialist doing so. We are also introducing new specialisms such as science and engineering. INSPIRE will give an enormous boost to the launch of these new specialisms."

The £1 million commitment from GSK will support an initial four-year pilot of INSPIRE. It is hoped that the project will involve up to 15 schools in and around the M25 area.

Education and Skills Secretary, Estelle Morris said ‘This is a major landmark in introducing a modern blend of practical and professional skills into the classroom. Pupils will benefit from new ways of teaching science and engineering through the cutting edge scientific knowledge that the post-docs will bring to their lessons and the post-docs will gain valuable practical experience on the road to a teaching qualification through working with high quality, experienced teachers. I believe the post-docs will be inspiring role models helping to spark interest in science as a career choice for pupils at the specialist schools and other schools in their communities.’

Also speaking today at the event Sir Richard Sykes, Rector of Imperial College London said, ‘INSPIRE offers a unique opportunity to create partnerships between industry, higher education and schools. I believe that the Imperial post-docs will act as excellent role models and stimulate broader enthusiasm for science. Britain has a successful high technology industry, which depends on the flow of well-qualified scientists and engineers. INSPIRE has been developed to increase the number of young people specialising in post-16 science courses enabling them to pursue degrees in chemistry, physics and engineering and ultimately a career in science.’

Jennie Younger, Senior Vice President, Corporate Communications and Community Partnerships at GSK commented, ‘GSK employs around 25,000 people in the UK and spends £2.6 billion each year on research and development worldwide. Encouraging young people to choose a career in science is fundamental to the continued success of our business.’

Chapter 2.4 of the Science Agenda is devoted to Science education. ‘Governments should accord the highest priority to improving science education at all levels’, the section begins, going on to say that ‘steps need to be taken to promote the professional development of teachers and educators in the face of change and special efforts should be made to address the lack of appropriately trained science teachers and educators.

The Science Agenda also encourages innovative approaches to stimulating a vocation in science and defining new public–private partnerships. Curricula relating to science and technology should encourage a scientific approach to problem-solving’, paragraph 37 recommends. ‘University–industry cooperation should be promoted to assist engineering education and continuing vocational education and to enhance responsiveness to the needs of industry and support from industry to the education sector.’

There are currently four categories of specialist school: Technology, Language, Arts and Sports Colleges. Four new specialisms became operational from September 2002: Science, Engineering, Business and Enterprise and Mathematics and Computing. Since October, it has also been possible for certain specialisms to be combined, for example Science and Engineering.

Specialist schools are maintained secondary schools that teach the full national curriculum but place a particular emphasis on teaching and learning in their chosen specialism within the Specialist Schools Programme. Specialist schools must raise £50,000 in private-sector sponsorship (approximately US$80,000) and draw up a four-year development plan to raise standards, increase provision and encourage take-up in their specialist subject(s).

They must also have a community development plan which shows how they will share the benefits of good practice, expertise and resources with other schools named in the plan and with identified groups within their wider community. The Government believes that widening schools’ options in this way will mean they are able to develop their individual strengths, promote innovation and spread good practice throughout the whole school system.

For further information, contact: c-atkinson@dfid.gov.uk

ACPCT celebrates its first year in promoting public communication of science
Top of page

16 December 2002 A group of Argentinian science journalists and science communication experts from Villa Mercedes in San Luis province have spent the past year promoting the public communication of science and technology through their own association.

The fledgling Asociación para la Comunicación de la Ciencia y la Tecnología (ACPCT), founded in November 2001, has initiated projects to analyse the representation of the sciences in the Latin American media (press, television and radio); it has also studied science communication in local and regional contexts. All of the projects have received sponsorship and funding.

ACPCT is committed to fostering quality science journalism. One means towards this end is science communication courses in universities, which they plan to organize. Another is research. ACPCT has begun researching science journalism in the region, as well as public comprehension of science and the relations between science journalism, science communication and education. The ethical risks and social responsibility of science journalism are another of its concerns.

In the area of science popularisation, ACPCT is interacting with non-profit organizations, state bodies, science departments, universities and all other relevant institutions.

Paragraph 41 of the Science Agenda stresses that ‘governments, international organizations and relevant professional institutions should enhance or develop programmes for the training of scientific journalists, communicators and all those involved in increasing public awareness of science.’

The Science Agenda recommends that an international programme on promotion of scientific literacy and culture accessible to all be considered in order to provide appropriate technology and scientific inputs in an easily understandable form that are conducive to the development of local communities.

National authorities and funding institutions are urged to promote the role of science museums and centres as important elements in public education in science (para. 42).

ACPCT is interested in exchanging experiences on common initiatives within the large Ibero-American family.

For further information, go to: CIENCIAXXII@yahoo.com.ar

African workshop trains women to use ICTs in reporting on the science of HIV/AIDS
Top of page

11 December 2002 SciDev.Net and UNESCO are organizing a five-day training workshop on the use of information and communications technologies (ICTs) - in particular the Internet - to improve reporting on the science of HIV/AIDS. The workshop will take place in Uganda in April 2003. The deadline for applications is 31 December (see below).

The workshop will target those who are (or would like to be) professionally engaged in communicating HIV/AIDS information to the public through print, radio or electronic means. There are 15 places, all of which are reserved for women participants. All travel and accommodation costs will be covered.

The World Conference on Science urged partners to disseminate scientific information as broadly as possible to foster knowledge and public debate, including through the use of ICTs.

Moreover, paragraph 48 of the Science Agenda invites 'governments, international organizations and relevant professional institutions to enhance or develop programmes for the training of scientific journalists, communicators and all those involved in increasing public awareness of science.'

All applications must be received, either electronically or by fax, by 31 December 2002. Further information, as well as details of the application procedure and an application form, may be found at www.scidev.net/hivworkshop/advance.html .

Contact: Stella Hughes

Brazil pledges to double science budget
Top of page

27 November 2002 - Brazilian president-elect Luis Inácio 'Lula' da Silva has pledged to double spending on science and technology to 2% of gross domestic product by the end of his government's term, with particular emphasis on increasing financial support for basic research.

The new government, which will take office in January, has also promised to improve science education and to set up a national science communication programme involving scientific institutions, universities and museums. José Ribamar Ferreira, President of the Brazilian Association of Science Centres and Museums, is enthusiastic about the government's proposals on science communication. 'There are several science communication activities in Brazil, but these are fragmented with no linkage among individuals and institutions responsible for these activities', he says. 'A national programme which has government support - both financially and politically - will indeed be positive'.

Lula, who won last month's elections with 62% of the votes, has said that politically sensitive issues - such as energy, nuclear technology and genetic engineering - would be widely and democratically discussed. He is also expected to encourage universities, research institutions and technological companies and other stakeholders to have a greater role in formulating science and technology policies.

The World Conference on Science called on governments to ensure stable funding for public research (para. 14, Science Agenda) and aim for high-quality scientific institutions capable of providing research and training facilities in areas of specific interest (para. 7). Paragraph 41 urges governments to accord the highest priority to improving science education at all levels, to raising public awareness of science and to fostering its popularization The Science Agenda also advocates putting in place adequate participatory mechanisms to facilitate democratic debate on science policy choices (para. 56).

Source: SciDev.Net

Preventing water wars
Top of page

25 November 2002 - It has been called 'blue gold'. Key to survival and prosperity, shared water sources are frequent sources of friction between neighbouring countries.

The potential for conflict surrounding water issues prompted UNESCO's International Hydrological Programme and Green Cross International, an environmental non-governmental organization, to hold an international conference on the prevention of water wars within and between countries from 20 to 22 November.

'From Conflict to Cooperation in International Water Resources Management' was held at the International Institute for Infrastructural, Hydraulic and Environmental Engineering (IHE) in Delft (The Netherlands).

More than 200 experts from around the world participated in the open conference sessions, which enabled experts from diverse regions to exchange perspectives on extremely sensitive issues, such as major dam construction projects in India and Lesotho, and tensions over shared water resources in the Middle East or in the Volta River basin shared by Burkina Faso and Ghana.

One session took a prospective look at the impacts of climate, social and technological changes by focusing specifically on the Mekong River basin, where recurrent flooding and other problems have led to increased co-operation among states situated on the banks of rivers. Another studied international security agreements for shared basins, like that of the Lempa River, which crosses into Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

In section 2.5 of the Science Agenda devoted to Science for peace and conflict resolution, paragraph 52 calls for governments and the private sector to invest in sectors of science and technology directly addressing issues that are at the root of potential conflicts, such as energy use, competition for resources, and pollution of air, soil and water.

For further information, write to j.bogardi@unesco.org

British Science gets a boost
Top of page

12 November 2002 Education and Skills Secretary Estelle Morris has announced that Science Year, the Government initiative to increase young people’s interest and engagement in science, will be extended until July 2003.

In making the announcement in July, Ms Morris said ‘Extending Science Year until July 2003 will allow us to create a lasting legacy of resources and sustainable projects. There is a tremendous desire among schools, the science community, business and key partners to build on its success. ‘

Science Year is a national follow-up activity to the World Conference on Science. Launched in September 2001, Science Year has already given more than £4 million in new science resources to schools, including digital microscopes, electronic whiteboards and biotechnology kits. It has also improved links with industry through the Science and Engineering Ambassadors scheme.

The Year aims to raise awareness of science among young people aged 10–19 years and their key influences: parents and teachers.

Working with teachers, industry and the Government, Science Year is the launchpad for a wide range of activities, initiatives and programmes delivered by local and national organisations.

Science Year seeks to highlight the many creative opportunities that exist in the workplace today for young people with a science qualification and the importance and impact that science has on our everyday lives.

The Year is managed by the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA) on behalf of the Department for Education and Skills, and involving their key partners the Association for Science Education (ASE) and the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BA).

‘The Year will continue to improve the profile and perception of science,’ Ms Morris added, ‘involve communities in science and strengthen and demonstrate links between schools, higher education and industry. It will also continue to support work being done to improve science teaching and learning in the early years of secondary education and the aim to increase the uptake of science in higher education and careers particularly for under-represented groups, such as girls and minority ethnic groups.’

Mike Tomlinson, Director of Science Year said ‘Strategic partnerships with organisations including the BA (British Association for the Advancement of Science), ASE (Association for Science Education) and Science Year ‘Friends’, have been a contributing factor to the success of Science Year. These relationships have enabled us to provide innovative equipment and resources to both primary and secondary schools and we will continue to build new relationships in the future.

Therefore, I am delighted to announce that, following their sponsorship of the Tomorrow’s World Roadshow Live, which is touring in celebration of Science Year, we have made British Gas a Friend of Science Year.’

Responding to the honour, Simon Waugh, Deputy Managing Director, British Gas said, ‘We're absolutely delighted that British Gas are being awarded 'Friend
of Science Year' status. I believe it firmly underlines our commitment to energy efficiency and in particular, our Think Energy programme for schools, which we are continuing into the forthcoming school year.’

Further information about Science Year is available at www.scienceyear.com

Member States celebrate World Science Day
Top of page

6 November 2002 - Worldwide, countries are preparing to celebrate the first World Science Day for Peace and Development on 10 November Events include conferences scheduled in scientific institutions, public debates on science with the participation of policy-makers, special events in museums and science parks, activities for school children and press briefings.

The idea of a World Science Day was first proposed by countries attending the World Conference on Science organized by UNESCO and the International Council for Science (ICSU) in Budapest (Hungary) in June 1999. Adopted by UNESCO three months later and established as 10 November of each year, the annual Day provides an opportunity to renew national and international commitment to the cause of science for peace and development and to promote responsible use of scientific knowledge in the service of society.

At UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, two roundtables are being organized to mark the Day. These will bring together scientific figures, Ministers of Science and Technology and people involved in building science awareness or a science culture. One will be on Science for Peace and Development, the other on Science for Peace; the latter is being co-organized by the US National Academy of Sciences, represented by Dr Farouk El Baz. Other participants include Dr Torsten Weisel, Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1981 and Chair of the Human Rights Committee at the US National Academy of Sciences, Professor Menahem Yaari of the Centre for the Study of Rationality at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem (Israel) and Dr Sari Nusseibeh of the Palestine Academy for Science and Technology.

The same day, an exhibition on Art and Science will be inaugurated at UNESCO Paris Headquarters. The exhibition will show paintings by Denis Fadier and photographs by mathematician Jean-François Colonna. Read about events around the world and at UNESCO.

Contact:    Top of page
Newsletter, World Conference on Science, UNESCO
7, place de Fontenoy, 75352 PARIS, France
Fax: (33) 1 45 68 58 23
, e-mail: wcs-newsletter@unesco.org
Back to UNESCO Home pageBack to Natural Sciences WebsiteBack to WCS websiteBack to the top of page