Mexico’s budget cuts are affecting the work of researchers and scientists

Austerity measures recently enacted by Mexico’s president Andrés Manuel López Obrador, are pushing the country’s scientific efforts — chronically underfunded for years — to a breaking point, according to researchers.

As part of broader cost-cutting measures aimed at freeing up money for poverty-alleviation programmes, in May, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador cut 30–50% of the money that federally funded institutions — including centres supported by Mexico’s main research funding agency, the National Council of Science and Technology (CONACYT) — spend on travel, petrol, office supplies and salaries for temporary workers.

Since then, several research institutes say they have rationed electricity and sacked temporary workers. Scientists have cancelled conference travel and international projects, and others have relied on crowdfunding campaigns to pay for supplies. The monetary uncertainty has also deterred Mexican researchers working abroad from returning to take jobs at home.

The measures came on top of a roughly 12% cut to the 2019 budget for CONACYT that López Obrador’s administration enacted in December 2018. The move left the agency with 18.8 billion pesos (US$960 million).

“Mexican science has never been well funded,” says Antonio Lazcano, a biologist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) in Mexico City. But the austerity measures, on top of the cuts to CONACYT’s budget, threaten to hamper the recruitment of early-career researchers, as well as the monitoring efforts for potential disasters such as earthquakes and epidemics, he says. Without advances in science and technology — which drive innovation and attract investors — the cuts could also set back economic growth in Mexico, he adds.

In June, Lazcano and 56 other Mexican scientists wrote an open letter to the government urging officials to reverse these recent funding cuts. As of 7 August, nearly 18,000 people had signed the letter online.

The Baja Post Newsroom with information from Nature.com

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