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[JEDDAH] The Islamic Development Bank (IDB) has launched a US$34.4 million three-year project to build and retain a critical mass of world-class scientists and promote research and development in IDB member countries.

The project was one of several discussed at workshops held in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, this month (5–17 January) as part of the IDB's 'Vision 1440' plan for development.

Next month, the project will commence with a discussion of strategic plans between IDB's education team and commissioned consultants.

In May, the strategies are to be adopted in a workshop before being tested in a pilot programme involving three institutions — from Africa, Asia and the Middle East — in August. The eventual aim is to involve at least 12 additional institutions around the various IDB member states.

The project will look to annually increase the number of PhD and Masters students in IDB member states by ten per cent, and, from October 2009, the number of scientists in specific fields of interest — such as agriculture and chemical research — by five per cent in the three pilot institutions.

The IDB will finance the initial phase, and is seeking to bring in other potential partners to scale up the programme, such as the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development, the Islamic Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the African and Asian development banks.

Mamadou Goita, special advisor to the director-general of the Mali-based Rural Economy Institute and a member of the general committee of the IDB scholarship programme, says the project represents a "vital step in a very hard road" for developing scientific workforces in the Islamic world.

"Muslim scientists represent less than two per cent of the world's scientists and, despite similar levels of development, there are more than twice as many scientists in the developing world as in Muslim countries — and almost eleven times as many in the developed nations," he says.