Summary: An introductory brief from the UK Science and Innovation Network which covers the local Science and Innovation landscape, UK priorities and successes in Chile.
Chile Science and Innovation Landscape
Chile is one of the newest members to join the OECD and is behind leading science countries in terms of science infrastructure and investment in research and development (R&D). It is however a leader in the Latin American region and has pockets of science infrastructure that are genuinely world-class.
To close the gap with other OECD members, the Chilean government established a new Ministry of Science, Technology, Knowledge and Innovation in 2018. One of the key objectives is to transition from Chile’s current natural resource export-led model (Chile is one of the world’s largest exporters of copper, lithium and molybdenum) to a system that can also utilize these natural resources to develop new technologies and generate more research.
Most of the R&D expenditure in Chile is currently undertaken by the government, through two funding agencies: CORFO (the Chilean industrial innovation promotion agency) and ANID (the national agency of research and development). In 2018, expenditure on R&D accounted for 0.35% of GDP in Chile, well below the OECD average of 2.4%. The long-term objective is to increase the R&D expenditure to 2.5% by 2030 and to reach the private/public investment ratio of other OECD countries. The private sector currently plays a modest role in financing and performing R&D activities.
The December 2020 announcement by Microsoft to locate a new data research centre in Chile as part of a $11.3 billion investment estimated to add 51,000 new jobs over the next four years is a major boost for this strategy. The centre will build upon Chile’s existing strengths in data analysis, linked to its world-class astronomy infrastructure. The Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array (ALMA) is a system of 66 radio telescopes in the Atacama Desert, utilising the regions high elevation and low humidity which makes it one of the leading radio telescope arrays in the world.
Much of the analysis of the ALMA data takes place 1,000 kilometers south in Santiago. Two of Santiago’s universities are ranked in the top 4 in Latin America according to the QS 2021 rankings - Catholic University of Chile (1st) and University of Chile (4th). Other leading universities in Chile are Universidad de Concepción (ranked 11th), USACH (14th), the Catholic University of Valparaíso (22nd) and Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez (24th).
Strategic S&I plans:
In order to increase private sector investment and strengthen the links between research centres and companies, Chile is implementing significant reforms, including an earmarked science and innovation tax (through a royalty tax on mining profits), plans for higher government expenditure, and a generous R&D tax credit scheme for companies.
As public R&D spending continues to increase, there is a need for structural changes, especially on the capacity side. One of the most important policies has been to increase human capital in science and innovation. Since 2008, the main tool to increase science capabilities has been the government scholarship scheme Becas Chile, which finances an average of 500 PhD students every year. For the last few years, the UK has been the main destination for the Becas Chile scholars, contributing more than £20 million per year to the UK economy.
The government has also been incentivising the establishment of foreign-investment led research centres in Chile. A dozen foreign owned research centres have been established in Chile since 2012, including two Fraunhofer Institutes; a Biotechnology Centre, and a Solar Energy Centre. A new $193 million Institute of Clean Technologies, led by a US-consuortium will focus on the research and development of solar energy, lithium and advanced materials in Antofagasta. The centre will also look at applications for the technologies in green hydrogen, with the export of green hydrogen being a major new focus for the government, utilising Chile’s abundant solar energy reserves.
UK Science and Innovation in Chile
Bilateral Research Partnerships:
Chile´s current research funding agency ANID (formerly known as CONICYT) has international agreements with three dozen countries, including the UK. One leading UK-Chile region for collaboration is in astronomy. The European Southern Observatory (the UK is one of 16 member nations) has been the main platform for astronomical investment and collaboration in Chile. The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) is another major partner, having signed a memorandum of understanding with its Chilean counterpart (INACH) to use Punta Arenas in Chile’s far south as a base for operations.
The Universities of Edinburgh and Nottingham have operations in Chile that coordinate their Latin American research programmes. The University of Nottingham-Chile Foundation is active in areas including astronomy, health sciences, engineering and socio-linguistics. In 2021, the University of Nottingham collaborated with the British Embassy on a project to prototype energy micro-grids in rural locations. Chile is the UK’s third largest partner in Latin America in terms of joint science-research after Brazil and Mexico. The UK, is Chile’s third highest partner globally in this metric (5.7% of all co-authored papers) after the US (12.9%) and Spain (8.4%).
The Newton Fund operated a partnership in Chile called the Newton-Picarte Fund from 2014-2017, up until Chile’s graduation from the DAC list of developing countries (meaning it was no longer eligible for Newton funding). Over 100 scientific projects and academic exchanges were funded in this time, focusing on energy, environmental science, marine science, Antarctic research, health, urbanisation and economic development with the UK contributing over £8 million in match-funding. These partnerships have contributed to further strengthening the strong academic links that exist between UK and Chilean universities.