[CAIRO] The Egyptian government should rekindle the private sector's appetite for innovation and improve researchers' entrepreneurial skills, according to a survey of science in the country.
"For many of Egypt's industries outside of the IT sector, spending money on R&D is akin to pouring it into the Nile," says the 'Science and Innovation in Egypt' report, published by the Royal Society, the United Kingdom's science academy.
The report is the second in the Atlas of Islamic-World Science and Innovation series, following an assessment of science in Malaysia published in 2011.
It highlights the urgent need to overhaul science education, upgrade school and university curriculums and increase vocational and technical education.
- A survey urges Egypt to overhaul its science education and training
- Better links with industry are needed, such as those in the country's booming ICT sector
- Experts welcome recommendations, but some say these are oversimplified
The report, which was published on 31 December, also refers to a decline in the public appetite for science, which is "a disappointing state of affairs for a country with so impressive an historical record in this field".
Michael Bond, lead researcher for Egypt's atlas project, says that restoring the private sector's appetite for innovation will require "financial incentives, such as tax breaks or extra government funds for companies that decide to invest in R&D".
He suggests that business and academia "have to learn to trust each other and work together more". There is already a good model for this in Egypt's growing IT sector, he adds.
"There has already been success in the IT sector, with many successful initiatives between researchers and industry, in many cases foreign industry. So there's a good model there," Bond tells SciDev.Net.
Egypt's pool of IT companies is growing by around 13.5 per cent a year, making it one of the world's fastest growing IT economies, according to the report.
The report is based on the latest data from sources inside and outside Egypt, and extensive interviews and visits across the country.
Most of the interviews were conducted in late 2010, before the Egyptian revolution, with additional interviews and subsequent report revisions carried out to reflect its impact.
According to Bond, Egypt's Academy of Scientific Research and Technology, which funds, coordinates and supervises research efforts in the country, has some excellent plans to address the challenges, but it needs commitment from the government to follow them through.
So far, he says, the academy has increased the salaries of researchers at government universities and research centres to between US$1,200 and US$4,200, including adding performance bonuses, and has employed an extra 40,000 to 50,000 graduates as researchers.
Mohamed El-Faham, director of the Center for Special Studies and Programs, a science-supporting institution that is part of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina library complex, says that the atlas is "a snapshot of the most recent situation in science".
"It reflects the hopes and the high expectations among young scientists after the revolution," El-Faham adds.
Although he agrees that there are currently insufficient links between science and industry, he believes in Egyptian scientists' potential to bridge this gap.
But Alaa Adris, managing director of not-for-profit development organisation the Misr El Kheir Foundation, says the atlas provides good, but fragmented recommendations, and that it overlooks some key issues hindering science progress in Egypt.
For example, he says that it does not address the lack of knowledge about research management, intellectual property protection and the commercialisation of technology.
"The impact of the inexperienced government employees who supervise the planning and execution of the research programmes was not mentioned in the report, although it is extremely influential on research output," says Adris.
This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Middle East & North Africa desk.
Link to full report