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Bahrain is undertaking a series of large-scale projects to try to establish itself as a regional hub for science and technology innovation.

Last month (21 April) it announced a project called @bahrain, which will consist of a technology research institute, a technology park and a 'techtainment' centre offering interactive entertainment.

It will contain more than one million square metres of business, entertainment and education facilities, and promote investment in key technologies such as transport.

Bahrain has also announced the launch of a 'higher education city', a regional hub for ICT research and training, and the first Internet-based 'e-University' for Asia and the Middle East.

The US$1 billion city should be ready by early 2010 and will encourage educational innovation to fill the skills gaps in labour markets.

It will host a consortium of universities from France, Germany, Italy and Sweden and accommodate 20,000–25,000 students within five years of opening. Initially it will offer four-year degrees in business studies, engineering, ICT, fine arts and humanities, and vocational training.

The regional ICT hub will be set up in cooperation with UNESCO (UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation). As well as ICT training and research in e-learning it will provide ICT support and policy consultation.

The e-University will include national e-learning initiatives to improve information access in the 31 member states of the Asia Cooperation Dialogue, a continent-wide forum. Originally proposed by Malaysia, it will be managed by the Open University Malaysia and will open next year (2010). Two branch campuses will be set up in Singapore and Saudi Arabia.

Eltayeb Mohamed Abdelgadir, a researcher at the Sudan-based Agricultural Research Corporation, told SciDev.Net that Arab countries need more projects like these.

"Although some Arab countries have huge resource and cash reserves, the dismal state of higher education in the Arab World is evident from the fact that only one Arab university in Egypt from the 22 member countries of the Arab league ranks within the top 500 universities in the world."

Tariq Shareef Younis, dean of the Bahrain-based administrative sciences college at the Applied Science University told SciDev.Net that the plans were in line with Bahrain's Economic Vision 2030 that aims to create a knowledge-based economy independent of oil revenue.