Cooperation key in getting Egyptian scientists back on track
CAIRO: Beset by brain drain, funding shortages and weak international networks, Egypt’s scientific community is falling behind in key scientific sectors, warns a top researcher.
In recent years submissions to internationally-recognized scientific journals by Egyptian scientists – a major indicator of scientific vitality – has fallen, according to Mahmoud Saker, a biotechnology professor at the National Research Center.
“There have been some disappointments, he told The Daily Star Egypt, noting that the number of patents registered by Egyptian researchers is also diminishing in relation to other emerging countries.
However, to reverse this trend and to enable Egyptian scientists to tap into international research funds, Egypt’s scientific community is teaming up with their German counterparts for a year-long program of events, meetings and symposiums.
“Science and technology in Egypt is in a state of reformation, says Saker, noting that exposing the new generation of Egyptian scientists to international cooperation is essential for future successes.
The initiative, dubbed “The German Egyptian Year of Science and Technology, will center on several key areas of study: water management, biotechnology, medial sciences, renewable energy and material science, which focuses on finding practical applications for newly-created synthetic material.
A smaller emphasis will also be placed on social sciences like sociology and philosophy.
The campaign officially launched this week with events at Cairo University, which included a lecture by Dr Harald zur Hausen, a top German cancer researcher.
Saker is also involved in the “Route to Nobel project, which is a mammoth scientific initiative being undertaken by the National Research Center and is aimed at pumping up Egypt’s research and scientific sectors.
These projects couldn’t be any timelier for Egypt’s scientific community.
According to Christian Huelshoerster, director of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), high-level scientists and governments in Europe are increasingly looking towards East Asian countries like South Korea and China for research partnerships, meaning Egyptian scientists could become increasingly marginalized.
“For us, this is about networking, says Huelshoerster.
The DAAD, which also works towards improving educational standards, is the program’s main implementing organization.
“If we think it’s possible to integrate gifted Egyptian scientists into the global community . then that’s the main purpose. If we come up with a list of five or six good projects which can work alongside German scientists, then we’ll be happy, he says.
Huelshoerster says that along with networking, emphasis will also center on improving Egyptian scientists’ ability to tap into the millions of dollars worth of funding available in the European Union’s coffers.
In fact, says Huelshoerste, in the past, ideas and brainpower aren’t so much the problem as simple communication and marketing skills. “In the past, Egyptian proposals haven’t been strong. If they don’t know how to formulate these proposals, they’ll never get the funding.
While the DAAD offers scholarships to about 140 Egyptian students every year who study at German institutions, sometimes, “well-trained PhD students come back to Egypt and find the structures aren’t up to date, says Huelshoerster.
The current ministers of Telecommunications and Religious Endowments both had DAAD scholarships.
Ali Abdel Rahman, president of Cairo University, says that the year of sessions and meetings will help build “channels between the corporate world and the scientific community, something he says which is “strongly needed in Egypt today.