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Black science effort frustrated

One hundred black scientists and engineers who volunteered as school mentors have been kept on hold for more than two years while government departments wrangle over who should fund them.

Meanwhile the Government's official Science Ambassadors scheme still has no policy on recruiting non-white scientists and engineers. It does not even know how many of its 600 current ambassadors are black or Asian.

More than 700 schools contacted the African-Caribbean Network for Science and Technology asking for materials and mentors to boost the take-up of science among black children, according to the network's director Dr Elizabeth Rasekoala.

The network's case for a permanent mentoring scheme follows its two-year campaign, backed by pound;100,000 from the Department for Trade and Industry, which ended last March and was . This brought together black children and African-Caribbean science professionals for one-off events.

But without state funding for travel and administration, no scientists can be matched with schools, said Dr Rasekoala. In February 2000, with backing from the Department for Education and Skills, she began negotiations with the DTI to set up a mentoring scheme, costing pound;60,000.

"We still haven't got anywhere. I have piles of correspondence between us and the minister Lord Sainsbury. Schools are saying they are really struggling to find support for ethnic minorities in science... It's scandalous."

Dr Ray Peacock, chief executive of the Science, Engineering, Technology and Mathematics Network which launched the Science Ambassadors scheme with pound;600,000 from the DTI in January 2002, said that his orgainisation was investigating ways of attracting ambassadors from all ethnic backgrounds: "I am not prepared to put emphasis on any one ethnic minority. Where there is a high density of Pakistanis or Chinamen (sic) we want to give them a fair crack of the whip too."

The DTI refused to comment on talks with Dr Rasekoala. But it insists it is not neglecting ethnic-minority students: the ambassador scheme, they say, fills the gap left by the Respect programme. A spokesman said ambasadors would be "representative of the local population". "For example, more than 50 per cent of the ambassadors already recruited in London are from ethnic minorities."

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