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A report released this week has identified steps that the Organization of the Islamic Conference should take to reform its member nations' science and technology sectors.

The report was prepared by the OIC's Commission of Eminent Persons, a group of leading intellectuals from 17 of the 57 OIC nations, asked to prepare a strategy for Islamic countries to "meet the challenges of the 21st century".

The commission said Muslim countries suffer from a low level of research and development, a poor educational system, and a shortage of creative and innovative ideas.

Many OIC member nations have small scientific communities and poor-quality universities. Although the countries have nearly a quarter of the world's population, they have only one per cent of its scientists, who contribute barely 0.1 per cent of the world's original research discoveries each year.

A 'consortium for higher education' would, says the commission, help promote scientific research and provide academic opportunities for Muslim students who have been unable to pursue higher education in Western institutions since the events of 11 September 2001.

Hassan Abdel Aal Moawad, professor of microbial biotechnology at Egypt's National Research Center, says that since 11 September 2001, growing US visa restrictions have stifled scientific exchange, training and education in areas such as nuclear sciences and biotechnology.

Restrictions on export of 'dual use' that could be used for military applications, scientific equipment and a decline in financial support and scientific collaboration from the West have also damaged science in Muslim countries.

The commission says a consortium could provide Muslim science and technology institutions with services that help expand educational opportunities, promote quality and efficiency of academic courses, and improve faculty development, institutional operations and community outreach.

It would also act as an external resource in creating a collaborative environment that inspires member institutions to develop and implement innovative and practical ideas.

The commission also urged the Muslim world to invest more in both education and research and development. Muslim countries spend, on average, less than 0.5 per cent of their gross domestic product on research and development each year, compared with 2-4 per cent spent by industrialised countries.

The report's other recommendations included enhancing the exchange of technologies between OIC countries, and integrating modern science and technology, and information and communication technologies into Islamic educational institutions.

Muslim countries would also benefit from technology transfer from, and scientific collaboration with, non-OIC Asian countries, says the commission.

The commission met in January in Putrajaya, Malaysia, and in May in Islamabad, Pakistan, to finalise its recommendations.

These will be submitted in September to an OIC conference that will prepare a ten-year strategy for the future development of Islamic countries. The strategy will be approved at an OIC summit in Mecca, Saudi Arabia in November.

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