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[CAIRO] Two institutions and a prize, all aimed at boosting scientific research in the Muslim world, have been announced by the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

The 57 member states agreed to establish the Islamic Virtual University, the Islamic Universities Business Network, and a prize for academic research papers.

The institutions were announced during the 5th session of the General Conference of the Federation of the Universities of the Islamic World (FUIW) held in Baku, Republic of Azerbaijan this month (12–14 May).

The virtual university will offer higher education degrees in science and technology through partnerships among the federation's members and other leading universities.

Besides developing training and educational programmes, it is hoped that the university will also catalyse educational reform and collaboration within the Islamic world.

The business network will focus on promoting the commercialisation of technology and on developing innovation-based businesses. It will offer training programmes and help better communicate science from university and research institutes to interested parties in the public and private sector.

"[The] network will help establish cooperation ties with the business and industrial sectors," Mohammed Kuchari, associate professor at the Saudi Arabia-based King Abdulaziz University, Jeddah, told SciDev.Net.

He added that the network will "hopefully encourage the private sector to invest in research and development in cooperation with public institutes or universities".

The Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization will host the virtual university at its headquarters in Morocco under the supervision of the federation, and it will establish a technical support office for the university in the United Arab Emirates.

Saudi Arabia-based Al-Imam Muhammad Ibn Saud Islamic University will host the General Secretariat of the federation's prize for academic research papers.

Kuchari said that "the prize for excellence will promote a spirit of competitiveness and foster outstanding research that will contribute to industrial development and use technology to solve real problems facing communities".

The Islamic world is home to one-fifth of the global population and yet its scientists represent less than one per cent of the global scientific community and contribute to barely 0.1 per cent of the world's original research discoveries each year.