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Iran and Syria have agreed to establish an Iranian university in Syria and set up a fund to promote joint research and technological projects.

The agreement is a direct result of the Iran-Syria science cooperation plan signed in March (see Iran to boost biotech research in the Middle East).

The Farabi university — to be launched as an international branch of Tarbiat Modarres University (TMU) in Tehran, Iran, in conjunction with Syria's Teshrin University — will focus on natural resources, marine sciences, animal and plant sciences, agricultural economics, forest science and environment, medical sciences, engineering and earth sciences.

Mohammad Zahedi, Iran's minister of science, research and technology announced the development last month (13 July) during a visit to Damascus, Syria.

Hossein Naderimanesh, vice president of TMU's academic affairs, said preliminary planning will begin at the end of this year, and they hope to start building by next year.

Opening the campus in Syria is part of the university's ambition to develop science and technology in the Islamic world, he said.

"We firmly believe this could be a successful model of scientific and technological collaboration, not only with Syria but also with the whole Islamic region," Naderimanesh told SciDev.Net.

Iran and Syria will also set up a US$500,000 research fund and 16-member committee to plan and monitor joint research and technological projects.

One of the first projects in the pipeline will be 'laser land-levelling', a technique that allows farmers to prepare a field for surface irrigation by grading the field to an exact slope. The researchers will adapt Iranian know-how to Syrian soil conditions.

Other projects include using biotechnology to produce drought and pest resistant plants, and collecting plant genetic resources in Syria, which could later be used in crop improvement.

"Iran-Syria biotechnology cooperation is a win-win situation for mutual benefit for both countries," Bassam Safadi, a plant biotechnologist at the Syria-based Atomic Research Commission, told SciDev.Net.

Fredun Hojabri, founding president of the alumni association at Sharif University of Technology, Iran's top scientific university, told SciDev.Net that south-south science cooperation must be encouraged because developing countries "urgently" need to become self-reliant in building up capacity in science and technology.

TMU's Naderimanesh told SciDev.Net that TMU is also planning to build another campus in northern Iran, as a "regional and international forum for our youth".

"If our best young minds come together and learn to work as team, we will have better and safer future," he said.