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[CAIRO] Arab states have made progress in technology and research but there is still a long way to go before the region becomes a knowledge society, according to a report.

'Arab Knowledge Report 2009: Towards Productive Intercommunication for Knowledge', proposes ways of filling what it says are numerous gaps in the Arab knowledge landscape.

Many Arab countries now understand the importance of science and technology in promoting development, and some Arab institutions — such as the Qatar Foundation — are pioneers in this knowledge revolution.

But Arab countries still have some of the lowest levels of research funding in the world.

Expenditure on research averaged just 0.2 per cent of GDP, compared with the global average of 1.7 per cent. This limited spending results in less than 40 patent registrations per year.

"Postgraduate students have to work within very tight budgets for their research," Nasr Metwalli, former dean of the Faculty of Agriculture at Menya University, Egypt, told SciDev.Net.

"They sometimes have to wait several months for research material. This affects both the choice and quality of research projects."

Science research in Arab states leads to little development, the report adds. According to Hani Helal, Egypt's minister of higher education and research, this is because of the way research is funded.

"Roughly 73 per cent of scientific research in Egypt is carried out through universities while less than 10 per cent is attributed to the private sector," he explained at a press conference. The research is therefore driven by supply, rather than demand, and often results in a patent without having a real application.

The report says there has been an increase in science collaboration between Arab states and the rest of the world but not all researchers benefit from this.

"Some technologies are non-exportable to developing countries," says Ahmed El-Hawatky, a network security engineer at the Arab Academy for Science, Technology and Maritime Transport. "In that case, I end up with incomplete research."

But the information and communication technologies sector has seen healthy growth in the Middle East — often surpassing growth in other regions of the world. The biggest obstacle to growth in this field is censorship according to the report, which argues that more freedoms are needed in general to promote the move to a knowledge-based society.

The report was published last month (28 October) by the UN Development Programme and the UAE-based Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation.

Link to full report [1.92MB]