Arab leaders have approved a ten-year strategy (2008–2018) for higher education.
The strategy was presented at a summit of the 22 member nations of the Arab League in Damascus, Syria, last week (29–30 March) and builds on an earlier plan signed in 2007 (see Arab states sign ten-year science development plan).
It calls for an increase in the ratio of students enrolled in science and technology at undergraduate level from 30–45 per cent and encourages more women to pursue scientific careers.
The strategy also seeks to increase the number of Arab postgraduate research centres. Eighty per cent of Arab postgraduate students currently carry out their study abroad, which is contributing to Arab brain drain.
To implement the strategy via grants and loans, the plan encourages the establishment of a special fund to be located at the Tunisia-based Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (ALECSO).
Bahlul Eliagoubi, director of science and the scientific research programme at ALECSO, told SciDev.Net that this plan will aid the Arab states in achieving excellence in higher education, "which is closely linked to scientific research productivity and the development of sustainable knowledge-based economies in Arab countries".
An action plan will be prepared to ensure that the strategy is implemented. This will be monitored and evaluated using specific indicators, such as the number of patent applications filled, research papers, the number of women researchers recruited and measured productivity growth.
The strategy also recommends setting up special higher education programmes to provide the private sector with a skilled scientific workforce. The league says this will help encourage the private sector in Arab countries to increase funding for higher education and research, which currently stands at only one per cent of total financial support.
Member states of the Arab League will fund the strategy. A report addressing its implementation and progress made will be presented at the 2009 Arab Summit in Doha, Qatar.