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[CAIRO] Saudi Arabia could soon have a new system in place for coordinating and funding scientific research.

The Shoura council — a body that acts similarly to Western parliaments — has approved its science committee's proposal to create a National Council for Scientific Research (NCSR) to oversee all science activities in the country, according to a report in the 11 June edition of the Al-Sharq Al-Alawsat newspaper.

Under the plan, the NCSR would administer a US$266 million research fund. Half of the funding would come from the government, with the other half expected to come from the private sector and public donations.

The Shoura is a consultative council with powers to enact laws and oversee government agencies. It's decisions are implemented following approval by the government and the king of Saudi Arabia.

If approved, the NCSR would be supervised by the prime minister and headed by the minister of higher education. It's planned activities include creating and implementing policies related to science, guiding and supporting research, and preparing educational programmes in specific scientific fields.

To help build scientific capacity, the NCSR will analyse the country's needs and advise the government on ways to establish and maintain the necessary number of qualified scientists and the facilities they need to conduct research and teaching.

The NCSR would also develop scientific standards to measure the quality and innovative nature of scientific research in Saudi Arabia. It would provide independent advice on matters ranging from ethics to the environment, and encourage dialogue between the Saudi scientific community and the government, private sector and general public.

Khider Alshibani, a physics professor at King Saudi University, says that before the Shoura Council's proposal can be approved, a government committee needs to scrutinise it in detail.

If endorsed, the Shoura proposal would give Saudi Arabia a national base for science and technology that would enable the nation to conduct innovative research, says Abdel Wahab Rajab Hashem, a professor of microbial pollution, also at King Saudi University.

The NCSR would help Saudi Arabia implement its 2001-2020 national plan for developing science and technology, added Hashem.