Jordan’s women scientists unimpressed by research fund

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[AMMAN] Jordan’s first fund set up to boost research by female scientists has not received a single application, officials have confirmed.

The Scientific Research Support Fund — created in 2008 to develop both the country’s scientific research and the research capacity of its graduate students — had set up a small sub-fund for women earlier this year, offering four grants of just over US$14,000 each to female researchers.

This fund opened for proposals on 6 February but, by the extended deadline of 15 March, there were no applications.

"The fund programme has sought to encourage Jordanian women researchers … we were frustrated by the response," Nasri Al-Rabadi, director of the fund, told SciDev.Net.

Al-Rabadi pledged to review the process, but said he had promoted the grants on the fund’s official website, in the media and via all Jordanian universities and research institutions.

The larger fund obtains its money from a one per cent tax on certain Jordanian companies. It has spent about US$18.4 million in the last two years, supporting research projects in energy, health, healthcare and water.

Najwa Khuri-Bulos, dean of research at the University of Jordan, rejected the idea of female-only research grants, particularly ones with such a small grant ceiling, when other grants from the larger fund do not have a ceiling.

"Scientific research does not differentiate between male and female," she told SciDev.Net. "The real distinction lies in the quality of researchers’ work.

She added that bureaucratic procedures may also discourage researchers from applying to the fund, as it takes around 18 months to obtain funding approval.

Sawsan Oran, dean of the faculty of science at the University of Jordan, said she was not surprised by researchers’ reluctance to apply for the grants.

She said that all researchers, whether male or female, are "fed up" with applying to the larger fund because of its high rejection rate, even for proposals that "conform to national priorities". More than 1,000 proposals have been submitted to the fund since its inception but only just over 100 have been accepted.

"My experience is that access to external support is much easier than applying for a national grant," Oran said.

Lara Tutunji, a researcher at the University of Jordan, said she did not apply to the fund for women because the larger fund had previously rejected her applications, which have subsequently been funded by a European body.

But Al Rabadi said: "The committee members are committed to the standards and criteria stipulated by the fund". He said every proposal is sent to three independent referees before it is rejected or accepted.

He added that 12 to 18 months was a reasonable length of time in which to make a decision, once all the academic and financial dimensions are taken into account.

"There are clear, practical and accurate assessment procedures that consume such time; it is not bureaucratic," he said.

According to the Jordanian National Commission for Women, 46 per cent of science students are women, as are 30 per cent of PhD students, but only 21 per cent of academic staff at science colleges are female.