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Arab Universities Are Stifling Research and Failing Society, a Scientist Says

/ 11 Jun 2021

Arab Universities Are Stifling Research and Failing Society, a Scientist Says

Despite frequent talk, globally and locally, about the need to support the presence of women in scientific research, this objective is still elusive. Women are still a minority in the fields of mathematics, computer science, engineering and artificial intelligence, and represent only a third of the number of researchers worldwide, according to a recent Unesco report.

As a woman scientific researcher, I can state that all the efforts made so far—whether to promote the presence of women in science or to support young scientists—have fallen short for several reasons, which I can illustrate from my personal experience.

I got involved in the scientific community after receiving a scholarship from the Egyptian Academy of Sciences to study for a master’s degree. I went to great lengths to secure a research position, which cemented my continuity in the field. At the same time, I had to manage my family affairs, as a married woman and the mother of a young child. Reconciling the two tracks has been a great challenge. (See a related article, Juggling a Toddler and a Ph.D.)

It is not possible to consider the position of women in the academic field without taking note that society—inside or outside the university—still fails to fully recognize their abilities and their equality with men.

This inevitably affected the way I dealt with the scientific community. Young researchers usually make their first steps with a lot of discretion. Before proving their scientific abilities, they must first make sure that their social behavior leaves good and promising impressions on a hierarchy that honors senior professors. Consequently, young researchers show an excessive willingness to obey orders and directions, despite the absence of academic guidance that might save them time and effort. (See a related article, Not Just Money: Arab-Region Researchers Face a Complex Web of Barriers.)

Moreover, it is not possible to consider the position of women in the academic field without taking note that society—inside or outside the university—still fails to fully recognize their abilities and their equality with men. (See a related article, Arab Women Are Left Out of University Leadership.)

Donors Favor Trendy Research Projects

Young researchers, both men and women, also come under pressure due to their lack of independence in determining the topics they work on; they have no control over funding or the specific trends which some donor institutions prefer. For instance, support for research on sustainable development has grown over recent years, while research on what can be described as nutritive studies has been frustratingly neglected. (See a related article, Health and Economic Crises Threaten Arab Funding for Research).

In light of the decline in funding, researchers are forced to direct their projects towards what can be described as attractive topics.

In light of the decline in funding, researchers are forced to direct their projects towards what can be described as attractive topics.

The problem is exacerbated by the absence of regulatory frameworks and a culture which inhibits opportunities for cooperation; each researcher works according to her or his own vision, or the directions of senior professors. Some may justify this by the fear of overlapping specializations, or the tyranny of one field over another.

The result is the absence of the “research team” as an effective concept in universities and research centers.

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Personally, I believe that this has led to a decline in patent applications and to the failure of universities to support entrepreneurship and cooperate with industry so as to contribute to development plans. Most Arab universities show an institutional failure to develop researchers’ visions and their methodological tools and improve the work environment.

How can we overcome all of this?

I believe, first, that a new academic culture is needed to support young researchers and women in particular and thus to help create an environment that encourages the introduction of innovative ideas without restriction or stereotyping. In addition, donors should be encouraged to fund all disciplines and topics so as to produce a balance between different fields and contribute to genuine, ongoing and well-established activities that use research to develop societies.

Amal Amin is an assistant professor of nanotechnology at Egypt’s National Research Centre, and founder of the Women in Science Without Borders Initiative. See a recent Al-Fanar Media profile of her here: “Amal Amin: An Egyptian Scholar Seeks Equity for All in Research and Science.”




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Copyright © 2018 Al-Fanar Mediaحقوق © 2018 الفنار للإعلام