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Vol. 27 No. 2
March-April 2005

Up for Discussion | A forum for members and member organizations to share ideas and concerns.
Send your comments by e-mail to edit.ci@iupac.org

Emerging Issues in Developing Countries

The following letter introduces a new series of articles on “Emerging Issues In Developing Countries,” which will provide a forum for views and discussion on one of IUPAC’s goals: “IUPAC will foster communication amongst individual chemists and scientific organizations, with special emphasis on the needs of chemists in developing countries.”

The series, which will run through 2005–2006, was initiated by Kip Powell, president of the IUPAC Analytical Chemistry Division (Division V). It is being coordinated by Jan Åke Jönsson who leads the Division V team with responsibility for “developing countries and emerging analytical communities.” As well as informing readers and exploring new ideas and opportunities, it is hoped that the series will promote wide discussion. If you wish to contribute to this series, please contact <jan_ake.jonsson@analykem.lu.se> or <kip.powell@canterbury.ac.nz>.

How Can IUPAC Facilitate International Collaborative Research?

by Elias A.G. Zagatto, Carol H. Collins, and Jan Åke Jönsson

Jan Åke Jönsson (center), at Lund University in Sweden, with visitors Tarekegn Berhanu (left) and Ahmed Hussen of the University of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The foreword of the IUPAC Biennial Report (2002–2003) states that IUPAC “facilitates and encourages international agreements and aids coordination of numerous activities carried out by national and regional chemistry organizations.” In this context, could IUPAC also assist graduate students/fellows, particularly those from developing countries, who further their studies in foreign countries or research institutes? Could IUPAC adopt an advisory role with respect to graduate student training abroad or in research institutes, and identify the issues and challenges that arise for the institution (or country) that these students come from? Could IUPAC identify host research organizations/ universities that are most responsive to the needs of such graduate students/fellows and their countries of origin?

Many graduate students/fellows from developing countries extend their studies by working in other institutions, often in other countries. However, the benefits of such arrangements are sometimes devalued due to a mismatch of local needs and resources relative to the research programs and facilities offered at these institutes.

As a rule, the programs of the host institute, rather than the needs of the graduate student/fellow and his/her country, drive the opportunities for advanced studies. Further, the infrastructure of the research centers to which the graduate students/fellows are linked may not be suitable for proper continuation of their research activities. The activities carried out at the host centers may be too sophisticated, hence less suitable to be continued in a developing country. As a result, retention of the young scientist in the country of origin is sometimes difficult. Differences in salaries and standards of living may also contribute to this difficulty.

A further problem, which often impedes a prospective candidate from seeking the most appropriate laboratory for carrying out his or her work in a developed country, is the so-called “bench fee.” A number of well-established laboratories (or their institutions) charge fees for “use of space/equipment,” which often seem to be exorbitant, especially to the agency sending the fellow/graduate student. To complicate matters, these fees may be waived for special groups, but are charged to others who (at first glance, at least) appear to meet the same criteria. At the least, a uniform policy should be established to address this problem. Even better would be a “sliding scale,” which would feature realistic fees, appropriate to the actual need of the fellow, not a flat fee without consideration of the actual project to be developed.

Some programs recognize these disadvantages and take counteracting measures. One example is the so- called “sandwich programs” of the Swedish SIDA/SAREC, (the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, Department for Research Cooperation), which substantially support the originating institution in terms of equipment and other resources in order to improve its research infrastructure.

In this context, there are fields where research incentives are strongly needed. In these fields, the relevant strategies and experiences should be widely disseminated and made available in advanced centers in developed and developing countries.

An important aspect that should not be overlooked is the presence of research institutions in some developing countries that are focused on specific topics of relevance and at which “state of the art” research is being carried out. Such centers of excellence should be identified and encouraged to participate in hosting graduate students/fellows from less well-established institutions. This process would not only support these advanced centers, but also encourage the originating institution to appreciate the effort and promise of organizations in their own country or region that have reached a certain level of achievement. A side benefit might be that the “sending” country would not feel as “threatened” with the loss of good people as sometimes occurs when people are sent to a center of excellence in a developed country.

In adherence to its long-range goals, IUPAC could consider the development of guidelines that help to solve or circumvent the problems discussed above. One possible approach would be to establish specific or generic issues that are common to a developing country (or countries) and to identify suitable advanced research centers that could meet these requirements. National Adhering Organizations would be contacted to assist in defining specific areas where research is needed and should be facilitated.

In this way, there would be significant gains for all participants—the graduate student or research fellow, his/her country, and the host institution. The training would be more effective and relevant to the country of origin. The transfer of knowledge and technology would be more effective. The trained fellow and his/her organization would be more respected. The host institution then would be more favorably rated by the scientific community, as only some institutions would be recognized by IUPAC as suitable Advanced Research Centers.

Elias A. G. Zagatto <ezagatto@cena.usp.br> is a professor at the Universidade de São Paulo, Brazil, and a titular member of the Analytical Chemistry Division. Carol H. Collins <chc@iqm.unicamp.br> is a professor at Universidade Estadual de Campinas, Brazil, and executive secretary and representative of the Brazilian NAO–the Brazilian Chemistry Committee for IUPAC–on the IUPAC Union Advisory Committee. Jan Åke Jönsson <jan_ake.jonsson@analykem.lu.se> is a professor at Lund University, Sweden, and a titular member of the Analytical Chemistry Division.


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