Mexican researchers await decision on polarizing bill revamping the country’s science system


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Mexican researchers await decision on polarizing bill revamping the country’s science system

The Mexican scientific community stands divided on a recently proposed bill drafted by the National Council of Science and Technology (Conacyt). According to the government of Mexico, the proposed bill will boost opportunities for researchers, improve policymaking, and ensure appropriate funding. However, when the bill was first presented in March 2022, it was met with a barrage of criticism from academics and researchers who saw it as limiting. With a decision on the policy draft expected this month, all eyes are on whether the polarizing bill will be introduced into law unilaterally.

While researchers are happy that the bill promises to revive humanities, a neglected field of research, along with innovation, science, and technology, they also think the bill ignores their demands. They point out that the policy seems to be drafted in a way that gives Conacyt, essentially a funding agency, more control over science reforms and policies, while limiting other stakeholders’ say in policymaking and putting curbs on academic freedom.

Additionally, researchers have pointed out that although the agency asked for a public opinion, none of the ideas have been incorporated or mentioned in the draft. The public opinions included dedicating not less than 2% of the annual budget to science, establishing a system in which scientists are important stakeholders and have a say in policymaking, and ensuring academic freedom. However, this was not taken into account.

Judith Zubieta, a science policy researcher at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), feels Conacyt’s contradictory actions belies their “speech of good intentions”. She points out that as per the current science law, the national expenditure on science and technology should be at least 1% of Mexico’s gross domestic product (GDP), however, the proposed bill simply states that the government will grant “sufficient, timely and adequate” funding.1

Researchers have also called out some of the “discriminatory” laws in the bill, one of them being tax exemptions given to universities and research institutes on equipment purchase but only from suppliers owned by the state. Another instance pointed out by the researchers is that scholarships and funding schemes will only be available to students enrolled in public universities.

Moreover, with Álvarez-Buylla Roces at the helm, Conacyt has withdrawn several scholarships for Mexican and international students enrolled in Master’s, PhD, and Postdoc programs. It has also removed biotechnology from the bylaws of the National System of Researchers (SNI), the nation’s process to identify and fund researchers, which means that biotechnology students won’t be granted funding anymore. Additionally, it stopped covering other international scientific groups’ annual fees.

These experiences with Conacyt’s policies and the recent exclusion of public opinion from the draft have fueled feelings of distrust and skepticism among researchers, adding to their cynicism about the Mexican government, led by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

Since May 2019, four versions of the science bill have been drafted and proposed, and more are expected. These versions are being proposed by different groups of academics and science councils, who were invited by the government to share their inputs. However, so far, Conacyt’s version seems to be the most favored by policymakers looking to revamp the country’s science and technology laws. It has already been approved by an important science governing body, the General Council for Scientific Research, Technological Development, and Innovation, and will soon be sent to the Mexican Parliament for approval and amendment.

The science commissions of the Senate and Chamber of Deputies were to meet in May 2022 to discuss and plan the way forward. Cruz Ocampo, the technical secretary of the Science, Technology and Innovation Commission of Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of its Congress, said that all the proposals would be evaluated, and taking virtues from each one of them, a single draft will be finalized to benefit Mexico’s science, technology, and innovation.

References

1. Mega, E. Frustration builds over lengthy delay in revamping Mexico’s science law. Nature. 20 May, 2022. https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-022-01408-5

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Published on: May 30, 2022

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