Spanish cuts widen Europe's north-south research divide

Wed Jan 16, 2013 10:45am EST
 
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By Rodrigo De Miguel and Clare Kane

MADRID (Reuters) - Amanda Bolanos, a young Spanish scientist, knows she will not be coming home.

"Exiled in Cambodia" read the banner the molecular biologist carried at a protest in Madrid against government cutbacks. Back on leave from Phnom Penh, the 30-year-old researcher plans to head for Latin America if her present contract in Cambodia is not renewed. She sees little chance of finding work in Spain.

Bolanos and other scientists say sharp cuts in Spanish state spending on research and development, part of efforts to lower the national debt, leave them little choice but to go abroad. And they worry the cuts put Spain's competitive future at risk.

"There are two problems," said another demonstrator, Amaya Moro-Martin, 38, an astrophysicist with a prestigious Ramon y Cajal fellowship. "One is that there isn't enough investment. The other is that the investment there is isn't efficient."

She returned to Spain after 11 years in the United States but Moro-Martin, who carried her infant daughter on the march, said there was no chance her contract in Spain would be renewed at the end of this year and she will probably go abroad again.

Spain's modest place in the world of scientific research is far from new. Moro-Martin's fellowship is named after one of just two Spaniards ever to win a Nobel science prize.

And while state spending on R&D, even since the financial crisis hit, is comparable to that of wealthier EU governments such as Germany, private research by Spanish firms trails their northern rivals: current total national R&D spending is only about 1.4 percent of Spain's GDP, half the level in Germany.

But what particularly worries Spanish scientists who fret for their jobs, and economists who see research spending as an engine of growth, is that far from redoubling efforts to catch up, Spain now risks falling even further behind its competitors.   Continued...

 
Scientists work in a laboratory at the Complutense Medicine University in Madrid December 4, 2012. REUTERS/Andrea Comas