Continued support for the International Science Programme

15 June 2020

Chemists at University of Rwanda.

The International Science Programme (ISP) at Uppsala University and Sida have signed an agreement on the continued operation of the ISP Core program for 2020-2023. The Sida contribution amounts to totally 140 million SEK, that is SEK 35 million/year during the agreement period.

– With the support from Sida and the constant development of the program, the ISP model has uniquely been able to strengthen the capacity of basic sciences in the partner countries. Sida's bilateral research support programs, which have a broader scientific focus, have found a role model in ISP's work, and also apply the "sandwich model" developed by ISP for research training in resource-poor environments, says Peter Sundin, Director of ISP.

– The fact that Uppsala University is highly appreciated in many developing countries, especially in Africa, is largely due to the attention generated by ISP's Sida-funded activities there for almost 60 years.

Dr Chek Sotha, chemist at the Royal Academy of
Cambodia is planning for the yearly national
conference of the Cambodian Chemical Society
(supported by ISP).

ISP assists low and lower-middle income countries to build and strengthen their domestic research capacity and postgraduate education in the basic sciences – chemistry, mathematics and physics – through its core program.

The Core program at ISP are mainly of two types: Collaboration with a research group at a university department or collaboration with a network of research groups at different departments, typically in different countries in a region. In some cases the networks are national or interregional. Each of the three sub-programs has a reference group that assists ISP in the scientific evaluations of the proposals and acts as an advisory committee in scientific matters.

ISP is also assigned by Sida as the coordinating entity for the Swedish activities in the bilateral research programs in Cambodia, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.

Focus on the basic sciences

The International Science Programme (ISP) at Uppsala University has a focus on basic sciences.

They are defined as the scientific disciplines of mathematics, physics, chemistry, and biology. They are called basic sciences because they provide a fundamental understanding of natural phenomena and the processes by which natural resources are transformed.

ISP is supporting three of the basic sciences; namely mathematics, physics and chemistry.

Why does ISP support basic sciences in low and lower-middle income countries? This question was answered in the evaluation of ISP’s operation 2003-2010. There are several reasons why aid money should be used to support basic sciences:​

  1. Most of the flagship breakthroughs in development that benefit the poor have science at their core. 
  2. Research in the basic sciences is a “public good”, and often a global public good. 
  3. Expenditure on Research and Development is low in low and lower-middle income countries. The World Bank finds that the gap between research and development spending between rich and poor countries is much larger than the income gap between those countries.
  4. Market forces are such that OECD research institutes, and companies, rarely invest in research of direct interest to low and lower-middle income countries. 
  5. Basic science underpins productivity and international competitiveness, that is, key drivers of sustainable economic growth in a globalised world. 
  6. Basic science provides the evidence base for responding to many of the most basic challenges facing low or lower-middle income countries. 
  7. Research and training needs long term investments. None of the breakthrough discoveries had been achieved without long term, predictable, sustained financing.
Researchers at University of Dhaka Center of Advanced Research in Science, Bangladesh.

Contribute to poverty reduction

ISP believes that support to the basic sciences contributes to poverty reduction, although the link may be indirect. In the evaluation of ISP’s operation 2003-2010, it was concluded that basic science is a necessary condition for technological improvement and productivity increases in agriculture, manufacturing, and the service industries including health sciences. 

World Bank study of 55 developing countries states that there is a significant and positive association between the prevalence of science, maths, and engineering graduates and per capita GNI.

– External funding is still critical for developing basic sciences research in resource-challenged settings, where the domestic ability to sustainably fund such research is not yet established. In the long perspective, however, governments need to ramp up their support to science via domestic resource mobilisation, increasing their control over the research agenda and decreasing donor dependency, says Peter Sundin, Director of ISP.

Ulrica Ouline

Facts: International Science Programme

  • ISP was founded in 1961, and has established a successful model for strengthening the capacity in the basic sciences mathematics, physics and chemistry in primarily low and lower middle-income countries. 
  • The success rate of ISP is exemplified by a study carried out in 2016, which showed that 92% of previously ISP-supported research groups were still pursuing research and PhD training. Many of these groups are located in countries where universities and governments are now increasingly allocating tax resources to education. 
  • Moreover, close to 95% of PhD graduates from ISP-supported activities remain in their countries and regions, where they continue contributing to development.