Royal Society: regional resilience, scientific rebirth

January 24, 2013

The Islamic world should set up a funding consortium to channel research money into pressing areas such as water resources, renewable energy and agriculture, according to a report into Egyptian science.

Science and Innovation in Egypt, part of the Royal Society’s project to map scientific progress across the Islamic world, argues that the country has a huge opportunity to fix its higher education system thanks to the 2011 revolution.

To tackle problems that affect the whole of the Middle East and North Africa, the region could set up a system modelled on the European Union’s €8.1 billion (£6.8 billion) Seventh Framework Programme for Research, which focuses funds on strategically vital areas, the publication recommends.

Although Egyptian researchers already collaborate with regional neighbours, there is a lack of research money and “scant” pay for scientists, the report says.

The quality of Egypt’s scientific research is improving, the report argues, but in 2010 it published just 102 papers per million people, lagging behind regional competitors such as Turkey (409), Iran (377) and Saudi Arabia (226).

Although the report finds positives in Egyptian science - such as a “large pool of researchers” and a particular strength in mathematics - it also lists a series of weaknesses.

Egyptians - despite having elected a former academic, Mohamed Morsi, as president - are not interested in science, the report suggests.

“People do not generally see science as playing a pivotal role in development or in improving their livelihoods,” it argues.

Egypt “has fewer universities per head of population than just about any other country in the Middle East and North Africa”, it says. Those it has do not prepare students for work, who should be taught more problem- solving, critical thinking and communication skills to boost their employability, it adds.

Scholars rarely move university and promotion is largely based on seniority rather than talent, a system that must be dismantled, the report urges. It adds that universities must be given greater freedom to set their own curricula.

david.matthews@tsleducation.com.

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