In a brief presentation to the committee, TWAS executive director Romain Murenzi described a new agreement with the Chinese Academy of Sciences that every year will allow up to 140 early-career scientists from developing nations to pursue PhD studies in China. With that agreement, TWAS South-South fellowships now could number more than 300 per year. (Separately, China last year donated USD1.5 million to TWAS for fellowships, prizes and other programmes.)
"In the next few years, we hope to reach 1,000 to 2,000 PhD fellowships per year in developing countries", Murenzi told the committee. He said that would be "a major contribution" toward building research capacity and addressing essential human needs.
In addition, Murenzi said, two significant recent grants from Sida, the Swedish international development cooperation agency, will allow TWAS, through its partner Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World (OWSD), to support additional fellowships for women in science, as well as initiatives in science diplomacy. "These are very, very positive developments", Murenzi said.
Such agreements clearly help to build science in the developing world. But Murenzi emphasized a critically important point: steady funding from the Italian government helps to pay for expenses ranging from fellowship awardees' travel for study in other nations to the prestigious TWAS Prizes. And, over a period of many years, Italy's contribution – TWAS's core funding – has helped to attract funding from other nations and organizations.
"The annual contribution of the Italian government, in effect, is multiplied several times", Murenzi explained.
"We consider TWAS to be a virtuous organization", one representative of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs told the Steering Committee. "This is why, in spite of the economic crisis we are facing, the TWAS budget has been retained intact."
The Steering Committee met in Rome on 5 February at the prestigious Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, the science academy founded in 1603 which included Galileo Galilei among its first members.
The TWAS Steering Committee is comprised of representatives of the Italian government’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), with both organizations appointing knowledgeable external experts. Among the observers were representatives of the Italian Ministry of Economy and Finance and Bai Chunli, newly appointed TWAS president and president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.