Scientific Research Is Not A Sophisticated Luxury

Dhuha Fadel
Emirati Researcher

Dhuha Fadel Emirati Researcher
Scientific Research Is Not A Sophisticated Luxury

In recent decades, newly emerged global poles have redefined the map of world economy through its high growth rates. The most prominent example is the emerging economies of China, India, Brazil, South Africa, Turkey and Mexico.

Since a long time, these countries have sensed the importance of the trend towards investment in the fields of scientific research, development and innovation as a strategic tool that will contribute to the achievement of sustainable economic growth and to maintain competitiveness against other global power centers.

Since a long time, these countries have sensed the importance of the trend towards investment in the fields of scientific research, development and innovation as a strategic tool that will contribute to the achievement of sustainable economic growth and to maintain competitiveness against other global power centers.

With the revolution of technology and information and modern means of communication that has characterized the last decades of the history of mankind which brought about radical changes in the methods of people's lives, and the performance of their business, the investment in knowledge, scientific research and development has became an urgent need, not a luxury, for those who would like to join up with the progress of civilization.

Although we find that the attention to scientific research and development is increasing in these countries, it is in the Arab world, in spite of some ambitious attempts here and there, still lives in a state of confusion, randomness, lack of clearly defined vision and objectives that contribute to upgrading its quality and quantity to the ranks of developed countries or even some developing countries that have adopted the policy of investment in the fields of scientific research and development as one of the strategic priorities towards sustainable development.

The scientific research in the Arab world is still a victim of abuse or lack of planning, meager capabilities and resources. All these are arising from the lack of awareness and sometimes complete ignorance of the role of scientific research in the advancement of Nations. The level of cultural and civilizational progress of any nation can be measured only by the amount of attention and respect in scientific research and related institutions as well as individuals.

We can see the developed societies are not only just generous in spending on institutions and scientific research programs, but also they are working to provide various forms of moral support, to the extent that, in some cases they organize rallies demanding to increase provisions for Higher Education and Scientific Research.

There is no better evidence for this than the mass dissent against the proposal of some ignorant politicians to reduce the government provisions for scientific research aiming to cut the public debt, saying in one voice ; we prefer death in starvation on death in ignorance!

Facts and Figures

Facts and Figures

A report of UNESCO in 2010, issued in every five years to monitor developments and global trends in the fields of science and technology, reveals the size of the big "scientific" gap that separates the Arab world from the rest of the world in the fields of scientific research.

According to the report, the level of spending on research and development in the Arab countries still ranges at very low levels in four decades.

The average spending of these countries on research and development in 2007, is only about 0.2% of GDP. This ratio comes below the global average of about 1.7%, and is also less than the ratios of spending recorded in countries such as Finland (3.8%), Japan (3.4%), Korea (3.2%), China (1.4%) and Iran (0.7%).

Regarding trends in human capital and the number of researchers in the Arab world, the picture is no less bleak than the previous one. More than three-quarters of researchers in the world are from China, United States, European Union, Japan and Russia (these countries constitute only 35% of the total world population), while the total number of Arab researchers in the world does not exceed 1.7 %.

According to the UNESCO report, the number of researchers in the Arab countries in 2007 did not exceed 373 researchers per million inhabitants. While the figure is 3,656 in developed countries compared to 5,573 in Japan and 1,070 in China, 706 in Iran. Jordan comes on top of Arab countries in terms of the number of researchers by 1,952 per million inhabitants, followed by Tunisia (1,588), Morocco (647) and Egypt (617).

As for the output of research and development in the Arab world, they are very meek in both quantity and quality. The books and scientific articles are scarcely adequate when compared to the rest of the world.

According to the Arab Knowledge Report, released by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation, in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme, the 20 Arab countries produce about 6,000 book annually, compared to 102,000 in North America alone.

According to the UNESCO, the total scientific publications in the entire Arab countries amounted to about 13,574 in 2008, which is much lower than what is published by one country such as Brazil (26,482) or Korea (32,781). The number of published books by the Arab countries is equal to the books published by Israel (10,069) or Iran (10,894 ).

The patents registered in the Arab countries, which reflect the level of knowledge generation in the private sector, have formed one of the lowest rates on a global level. America is the top performer in this area, especially in technology sector with a total of 81,811 registered patents in 2007, followed by Japan (33,572) Germany (9,713) China (7,362) and Korea (6,424). The total patents registered in the entire Arab countries, did not exceed 84!!

We can see from the above that the gap that separates the Arab world from the rest of the developed and emerging countries is a vast gap which if not seriously taken as soon as possible, it may be impossible for the Arab world to catch the rest of world for centuries.

Steps in the right direction

Steps in the right direction

Some Arab countries, albeit belatedly, sensed the danger of backwardness in scientific and knowledge advancement and started to develop policies and strategic plans for the advancement of levels of science, technology and innovation, such as the National Policy for Science, Technology and Innovation which was approved in 1995 in Jordan, and the National Plan for Science, Technology and Innovation, approved by Saudi Arabia in 2003 and implemented in 2008, while most Arab countries are still lacking such national policies.

In addition, a science park has been established in the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia, aimed to develop the partnership between the public and private sector in various aspects of research, development and innovation. In recent years, a number of initiatives and projects that aim to raise the level of scientific research in the Arab world, have been implemented, for example, the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation, which was established in 2007 to help build a knowledge-based society in the Arab region and the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology in Abu Dhabi launched in 2006 to provide a scientific platform to launch and address the issues affecting the security of energy, water, climate change and sustainable development.

There is also a project in Qatar Education City, which was established in 2001 to accommodate a number of the world's most prestigious universities such as Carnegie Mellon University, Georgetown and Virginia Commonwealth and other prominent universities, in which Qatari students began to enroll along with Arab and non-Arab students. In addition, the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, which was established in 2009 specialized in research and graduate studies, aimed to make tangible contributions in the fields of scientific and technical progress at the local, regional and global levels.

Such initiatives that serve the fields of science, technology and scientific research in the region are important steps on the way to take advantage of the natural resources that abound in some Arab countries and channeled in the right direction, which helps to achieve the goals of sustainable development, as aspired by nations and peoples of the region.

Suggested Solutions

Suggested Solutions

There are several solutions and suggestions that may help at least partially to improve the levels of scientific research in the Arab world, all of which are achievable with joint efforts and good intentions. The most important is to work on establishing a research culture among members of the community especially the new generation, since the love of science and appreciation of the role of scientists is a community-based culture in the first place. Any scientific strategy that overlooked aspects of education and

community awareness would fail, no matter how ambitious it was. We should also work on the development of educational curricula to encourage students to try and experiment and learn criticism of surrounding phenomena and thinking outside the box. The talents of students should not be discouraged and their imagination should not be restricted with traditional education that only produces stereotyped thinking!

The other important side is to work on the development of a comprehensive national policy dealing with science and technology and to encourage innovation in consultation between governments, academics and private sector representatives. It is important to coordinate these policies among the Arab governments, especially in the subjects and issues of common interest, such as the issues of water, energy, health, agriculture and environment. The adoption of such a policy at the national level would help in finding practical and effective solutions to chronic problems such as the Arab youth unemployment, brain drain, waste of resources and total reliance on imported science and technology.

On the other hand, the private sector in the Arab world has to play a greater and more influential role in supporting scientific research and research institutions and not to leave the burden on the public sector which funds most of largest scientific research projects in the Arab world, in contrary to what is prevalent in developed societies. It also must work to educate the private sector about the benefits of scientific research and higher investment results. There are many examples of global institutions by its generous investment in the areas of research and development could achieve the creation of unique products with great hold in global markets and outstanding financial performance. For example companies such as Microsoft and Apple.

Finally, the attention to scientific research has become an urgent necessity to achieve sustainable development in any uncivilized society. The pursuit behind the understanding of surrounding phenomena and to find effective solutions to the issues and the increasing challenges in the fields of economic, social and environmental would not be possible without the efforts and sufficient resources to raise the level of scientific research, especially through increased investment and raising awareness on the importance of the role played by universities and research institutions in sustainable development . This is a lesson learned by our ancestors and would the Arab world be aware before it is too late?

Steps in the right direction
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