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ARGENTINA | 20-02-2024 17:55

CONICET: Growing protests by scientists, researchers against cutbacks

Researchers and scientists demonstrate against government cutbacks, with NGOs warning against "the systematic destruction of science and technology in Argentina."

Major groups of scientists have joined the numerous collectives staging protests against the policies of President Javier Milei's government.

Last week saw a protest by more than 500 scholars, teachers and researchers in Buenos Aires City, as demonstrators gathered outside the former headquarters of the Science & Technology Ministry (now downgraded to a Secretariat by the Milei administration). 

Rallies also took place at the administrative offices of the CONICET National Scientific and Technical Research Council in Rosario, La Plata and Córdoba. The protesters gathered under the slogan: “No scholarships, no science.”

The protests took place on the same day that CONICET directors met for their first board meeting of the year.

The focus of the dispute lies in the Milei administration's financial cutbacks to the sector. Campaigners have multiple complaints but the most critical, at this time, has do with the funding of doctorate scholarships. 

A release issued by the Federal Science and Technology Roundtable, an organisation gathering a dozen NGOs on scientific policy, accused the government of pushing the sector towards "scienticide," or "the systematic destruction of science and technology in Argentina.”

At the forefront of the conflict is a reduction in a severe reduction of academic scholarships. After the CONICET board meeting, the council's president, Dr Daniel Salamone, said that the National Government would cover 300 “doctorate completion” scholarships – a U-turn on previous statements stating that around 600 would be available.

The proposed level is lower than those granted in previous years, when twice or even three times as many were available. Specifically for this academic year, nominations for 1,600 scholarships had been opened for graduate students whose research projects were due to start in April 2024. 

Other conflicts have also emerged in the sector. According to CONICET researcher Jorge Geffner, 49 administrative staff from the former Ministry have been dismissed.

"in addition, promotions for the degree of researcher were frozen. There are also no funds allocated to institutes, which will lead, within weeks, to them shutting down because they cannot afford electricity for fridges and equipment," he added.

Similar statement were made by Dr Valeria Levi, deputy dean of the School of Exact and Natural Sciences of the University of Buenos Aires (UBA).

“What’s going on now is unprecedented. No government ever suspended the scholarship system. And it’s not a significant figure from the [government's] budget,” she added.

Protesters at last week's demonstration in the capital said that the government's decisions are more political than economic, given that CONICET scholarships account for 0.008 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

The state budget invested in science in Argentina is around 0.5 percent of the GDP. In developed countries – such as Israel, the nation recently visited by President Milei on his foreign tour – that figure is around three percent of the GDP.

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Enrique Garabetyan

Enrique Garabetyan

Redactor especializado en Ciencia, Salud & Tecnología.

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