Last week, more than 1,000 Argentine research scientists rallied outside the science ministry building in Buenos Aires to protest federal budget cuts that will force research institutions like the National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET) to cut spending. The protest specifically combated CONICET's actions to deny full-salary jobs to entry-level scientists and researchers in 2017, expressing concerns that these groups would be forced to leave the country in search of better funding and job security in science-related fields. More than 200 scientists also participated in occupying the science ministry building overnight.
Despite his vow in 2015 to double the science fund from 0.7% to 1.5% of the national budget, Argentina's President Mauricio Macri responded to recent economic downturns and heightened national debt this September by proposing a cut in funding to the science ministry by 50%. The cut was met with protests and petitions from scientist-led organizations including the Science and Technology Argentina (CyTA). It was consequently revised in November, but still reduced spending to the ministry by 36%, leaving no money for research institutions like CONICET to support salaried workers if they continue to provide stipends to PhD and post-doctoral students.
CONICET currently employs 10,000 full-salaried researcher staff members. In 2013, it released a national innovative plan to increase its staff by 10% every year until 2019. This past year, CONICET received approximately 1,500 applications for research positions, and awarded 874 positive evaluations that would usually result in salaried positions. But since the budget cut only leaves room for a 6% pay rise, CONICET had to announce that it could only afford to hire about half of these workers.
Although it ended in a compromise, the protest is one of the most impactful ones since the revised budget cut in November. Rather than promising any full-salaried positions to applicants, CONICET reassigned funding using its existing budget to extend 400 temporary fellowships to the end of 2017, rather than terminating them at the beginning of the New Year. It also created about 100 new fellowships, although no new permanent positions were created.
While the outcome was seen as a victory for the protest, the results still only put a Band-Aid on a bigger problem. Organizations like CyTA will continue to create petitions and organize protests to persuade the Argentine government to extend the national science budget to ensure job security and funding for researchers so they can use their scientific talents to benefit their own country.