[DOHA] Arab scientists have called for an increase in funding for research partnerships between the Arab states, whether by governments, civil society institutions or the private sector.
The level of scientific collaboration in the Arab region has been minimal, leading to a duplication of efforts and limited research impact, they said at a workshop in Qatar last week (20–22 November).
The workshop, part of the Qatar Foundation's Second Annual Research Forum, concluded that funding is the greatest obstacle to research partnerships in the Arab world. The lack of funding itself stems from a lack of political will or collaborative culture in the region.
Overcoming this obstacle requires political and public commitment to making better use of scientific research for sustainable development, said the participants.
Funding is necessary to build the capacity and infrastructure so that research centres in the region can enter into sustainable, long-term partnerships, said Ahmad Al Shukaily, a researcher at the Research Council of the Sultanate of Oman.
"But there is a need in the Arab states for research organisations to develop their own mechanisms to attract financial support, rather than relying solely on government support," he added.
Scientific research has so far been mostly funded by governments.
Sir Magdi Yacoub, co-chair of the Qatar Heart Research Center said that public and civil society institutions have an important role to play in supporting and funding research and regional partnerships.
"This is an absent culture in the Arab world," he told SciDev.Net.
According to UNESCO's 2010 Science Report, research expenditure in the Arab world has fallen short of world averages over the last four decades — it currently sits at around one per cent of gross domestic product (GDP).
But if countries started to pool their financial and human capacity resources, this could lead to more collaboration and open up new funding opportunities.
"Countries like the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) can finance these partnerships, while other Arab states, particularly Egypt and North African countries can participate with their research experience and human resources," said Adel S. Elmaghraby, chair of computer engineering and computer science at the University of Louisville, United States.
Aris M.Ouksel, professor of computer science and information economics at the University of Illinois, United States, said that "GCC countries mostly prefer to conduct such partnerships with developed countries".
Yet, he said, regional partnerships could help "secure a chance for the development of the entire region".
The participants also suggested creating a science channel on a news network to raise public support for science.
Ouksel said Arab science could "take advantage of the success achieved by Al Jazeera satellite channel in political enlightenment and dissemination of the values of freedomin the Arab world, and launch a new channel that could be Al Jazeera Scientific".
The forum brought together around 1,500 research experts, renowned scientists and young scientists from around the world, and it focused on the globalisation and democratisation of research.