Arab universities head calls for regional quid pro quo

Rich and poor states have resources other side needs, says sultan

November 21, 2013

The Arab world can roughly be divided into small oil- and gas-rich states such as Qatar and Kuwait, and much more populous but far poorer nations such as Egypt.

To bridge this divide, the head of the Association of Arab Universities has called on the rich Gulf states to spend some of their vast wealth on boosting the research record of their regional brethren.

In return, the recipients with burgeoning populations will provide the petroleum-rich states with qualified workers, Sultan Abu-Orabi said.

In an interview with Times Higher Education, Professor Abu-Orabi, who is the association’s secretary general, bemoaned the Arab world’s “very poor” scientific output.

Just over 5 per cent of the global population live in the region, but it produces only 0.5 per cent of the world’s scientific research, he claimed.

“There are so many reasons behind this. One of them is finance,” he said.

Another factor was the dearth of “strategic plans and strategic priorities” for research, Professor Abu-Orabi added.

To address this, last year the association established a pan-Arab scientific research fund to focus on areas pertinent to the entire region, including energy, water and healthcare, he explained. He urged wealthy countries such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait to contribute.

Speaking about his native Jordan, Professor Abu-Orabi said that although it had “no gas, no oil”, it did have “human resources”. Countries without great oil wealth such as his home nation and Egypt were spending huge sums of money on educating their youngsters, who then went on to work in the rich Arab states, he pointed out.

“Our kids go to work in the Gulf countries. Therefore, we are helping them,” he told THE at the 2013 World Islamic Economic Forum, held in London on 29-31 October. He believes the favour should be returned.

david.matthews@tsleducation.com

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