PARIS-The corridors and elevators were visibly less crowded than in past years this fail at UNESCO headquarters here. But the shrinking staff is only one sign of the withdrawal of the United States, the United Kingdom and Singapore from the United Nations' principal educational and scientific agency.
The agency's science and engineering programs have been cut by 37 percent, and its staff reduced from 167 to 126 professionals. Its $16 million budget, rather less than that available to the science faculty at a typical Western university, must be spread even more thinly among its 158 member states.
The agency hopes to continue as many of its present programs as possible, says Syrian physicist Abdul-Razzak Kaddoura, who has led the science and engineering sector since 1976. That means maintaining the present equilibrium among training, research and international collaboration in biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics and such selected applications as freshwater planning and management, ocean research and technology, and studies of the biosphere.
Kaddoura, the former rector of the University of Damascus who previously had been dean of its engineering school, has a deep concern for the way science is applied in developing countries. He makes use of the limited amounts available to his program-$150,000 in physics, for instance, and $125,000 in microbiology-to help researchers and educators become more adept at attracting matching funds from governments and industry.
The agency also maintains a science and technology policies division for member countries, a small unit to manage science-based development schemes funded by other sources, and a modest but varied publishing effort. Its science component this year will publish 36 textbooks and manuals, as well as three major periodicals.
UNESCO supports the world's scientific societies through the International Council of Scientific Unions, representing more than 400,000 specialists in fields from astronomy to zoology. Although it is not a funding agency on a par with the UN's development program, environmental program, or Habitat, it has provided major subsidies to such scientific endeavors as the International Center for Theoretical Physics ($400,000 annually) in Trieste.
Politics is never far from the surface at an international agency such as UNESCO. In recent years the chief question has been the fate of its director-general, Amadou Mahtar M'Bow of Senegal. M'Bow last month said he would not seek a third, six-year term, but he's thought to be willing to be persuaded to accept reappointment.
The United States and Great Britain left after criticizing the political thrust of some of its activities, in particular the orientation of a program to train youth to reject violence and aggression, as well as the agency's management of its re sources.
Because of tight budgets, experimentation and innovation often are achieved at a cost. A $10,000 study of whether to launch a scientific journal was done by a consultant without sufficient experience in the field. The money spent on the "worthless" study, according to officials who read the report, could have enabled a scientist from a developing country to receive six months of training abroad.
Richardson is a technical communications consultant in Dourdan, France.