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Messages to the presidential candidates: “The future is science”.

It is difficult to say that there is a new development in the fields of science, technology, and innovation in Colombia. People must be bored of hearing always the same story and that we are at risk of overcoming the issues, not because they were solved, but just because of despair. The diagnostics are repeated; every year there is an updated version of the reports of the Colombian Science and Technology Observatory.

But today is another moment in time. We are amid a hard-fought presidential campaign and if this is not solved now, we can be definitely left behind. With this perception, two worried and concerned academic groups met independently to write to the candidates and they coincided in the number of proposals, derived from also coinciding diagnostics.

The first document, “Science is the future” was promoted by the Colombian Academy of Exact, Physical and Natural Sciences, which gathered 31 academics to prepare the document, which has four chapters on related topics and ample superimpositions:

  • Science and technology
  • Education
  • Environment
  • Royalties management

Due to a lack of space of this article, I will only speak of some of its aspects. The proposal begins with a brief summary of the notable weaknesses of the system, including:

  • Chronic and increasing uninvesting.
  • Lack of leadership from Colciencias as the governing body and its institutional weakening.
  • An absence of a national science and technology policy (demonstrated on the incapability to produce an Economic and Social National Council (CONPES, for its Spanish acronym) document after more than three years of work.
  • Very bad royalty regulations for science.
  • Lack of support to institutions, research centers, and others.

They say it is necessary to guarantee the independence of this system; independence which does not mean less responsibility or whim, but on the contrary, an increased demand for accountability over a long-term plan built on a complex process and ample in consultations and expert opinions. This would generate a state policy which cannot be modified due to temporary needs of the governments.

The documents suggest building a real system governed by a very high-level scientific and political council, whose members would be appointed by the president of shortlist of three candidates presented by the same council. The Colombian Administrative Department for Science Technology and Innovation (Colciencias, for its Spanish acronym) would be given the role of executing and coordinating the initiatives and the national, regional and sectorial summons. It would be in charge of managing the different (fortified) funds: The Caldas fund, Royalties funds, as well as Health Research Funds and others. The director would be appointed by the same system used to appoint council members. Also, a gradual and progressive increase in the budget would be indispensable, according to the growth and new needs of the country.


The other document was written by former directors of Colciencias, headed by its founder Captain Alberto Ospina. As expected the coincidences with the other document are ample. They state their proposal to provide the candidates objective and straight information to help direct the debate. The document suggests ten proposals in a brief and concise manner.

It begins, as the previous, with a concern for a lack of a national policy and the institutional weakness of the system. It suggests totally redesigning, and as the former, providing guidelines for forming a very high-level national council, with the participation of different sectors of society, the academy and the government.

The proposal insists on the need to increase the budget, as it is clear that without funds a policy of this nature is just futile. They propose that investment in science and technology for 2019 be 1% of the GDP which currently is only at 0.27%, and to achieve it rapidly, for the rest of the sectors of government to restructure their investment budgets and allot at least 5% to science and technology.

The directors are also concerned about the manner in which investment of royalties funds have been wasted and inclusively in many cases lost to corruption. They propose the need to restructure the royalties so the funds may be allotted to the real drivers of regional development, supported by the potentialities of the whole country. Finally, they call on supporting the institutes and research centers and carry out an academic program to strengthen the capabilities of current and future administrators of the system.

It is not a coincidence that two academic bodies independently arrived at similar proposals. It is important that both understood the crucial moment we are in and the opportunity to open and deepen debate with the society at large.

Without a doubt this debate will end up demanding whoever is the next president to build a good national science, technology, and innovation system, to contribute to the economic, cultural and social development of the country. It is very clear for those knowledgeable of the subject matter, as the authors of the two documents, that not developing science in a country in the world of today, is the same as condemning the country, giving up to underdevelopment and the incapability to provide its citizens the opportunities of progress they deserve.


Consejo Editorial