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New Islamic collaboration on higher education and research
While the 57 member states of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation are adopting joint measures to promote higher education and research, OIC member Kazakhstan is implementing bilateral agreements and memoranda to establish a Central Asian higher education area.

These recent developments were outlined in the final communiqué of the Fourth Extraordinary Islamic Summit Conference “Promotion of Islamic Solidarity”, held in Makkah Al Mukarrammah in Saudi Arabia from 14-15 August, and at the Eurasian Higher Education Leaders Forum, held in Astana in Kazakhstan from 20-21 August.

Hassanuddeen Abd Aziz, dean of the centre for postgraduate studies at the International Islamic University Malaysia, welcomed the developments, which he said should be “linked with action and implementation plans, and monitoring and evaluation systems, along with the required funds to enhance their impact”.

New science and technology focus

OIC countries perform poorly in terms of knowledge and technology.

Only five Islamic states are above the world average in the innovation index, with Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates at the top; and only 12 Islamic states are above the world average in the knowledge economy index, with Qatar and UAE at the top, according to the report Research and Scientific Development in OIC Countries.

To tackle these problems, OIC member states have decided to adopt clearly defined measures to promote scientific and technological development, innovation and higher education.

They will among other things promote self-sufficiency in fields such as the peaceful use of technology under the aegis of the International Atomic Energy Agency, with a view to supporting sustainable development in member states, according to the OIC summit final communiqué.

Promoting higher education and research in the field of nuclear science is in line with the huge investments in nuclear projects by Iran, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and Kuwait, which have made the Middle East and North Africa one of the booming global markets of the nuclear industry, with US$300 billion worth of construction and operation projects under way.

And in a related development aimed at promoting cooperation between universities and research institutions, OIC members Malaysia and Mozambique agreed on 16 August to promote cooperation in joint research, development and design projects that will include exchange of research findings, scientists and specialists, and conferences, courses and exhibitions.

Under the agreement, a joint committee on S&T cooperation will be established to determine priority areas, plan, coordinate and monitor bilateral cooperation in science and technology, and consider proposals for further cooperation. Among the projects Mozambique is strongly interested in is the establishment of an Industrial Scientific Research Council and a Limkokwing University in Mozambique.

Islamic universities’ research productivity

While universities and research institutes in Islamic states are making progress in research productivity, impact in terms of developing knowledge-based economies remains limited.

But according to a 2012 forecasting exercise by the research, evaluation and ranking platform Scimago, on how the world will perform in research by 2018 based on past performance, three Islamic countries show dramatic increases in numbers and rankings: Iran, Malaysia and Pakistan.

Scimago analyses scientific outputs of institutions and countries and monitors more than 30,000 journals. Seven countries from the Islamic world were included among the top 50 countries: Iran, Malaysia, Turkey, Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria.

In the predictions, Iran moves ahead from number 19 to number four, Malaysia from 30 to 13, and Pakistan from 43 to 27 – the second highest increase worldwide, primarily due to innovative higher education policies and reforms being undertaken by the Higher Education Commission.

And according to a recent report, Nano Statistics, as a result of higher education and research development, Saudi Arabia for the first time features in the world’s top 30 scientific publications on nanotechnology. Iran also jumped up two places to sit at nine in the recent ranking.

The report, published by Fars News Agency, was based on the number of scientific publications associated with nanotechnology during the first half of 2012 – constituting 8.3% of the entire scientific literature generated during the period.

According to the 2012 academic ranking of world universities, or ARWU, from Shanghai Jiao Tong University, seven universities from Islamic states were included in the top 500 universities: University of Malay (Malaysia), Istanbul University (Turkey), Cairo University (Egypt), Tehran University (Iran), and three universities in Saudi Arabia: King Saud University, King Abdulaziz University and King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals. However, no Islamic university is ranked among the top 100.

Setting up a Central Asian higher education area

Meanwhile, the Eurasian forum of leaders of higher education heard last week from Kazakh Minister of Education and Science Bakytzhan Zhumagulov that Kazakhstan is successfully implementing 124 bilateral intergovernmental agreements and memoranda on the establishment of a Central Asian higher education area.

"Kazakhstan's higher education system became a part of the European and CIS higher education space. We attach much importance to the establishment of the Central Asian higher education area," Zhumagulov stated.

To help achieve that aim, the Graduate School of Education under Nazarbayev University was opened during the forum, with the universities of Pennsylvania and Cambridge as partners. Internationally recognised scientists will be included on the staff.

And from 2013, 32 of Kazakhstan’s higher education institutions will start tri-lingual education curricula.

"Internationalisation of education occupies a special place in the modern world. Within its framework, I want to emphasise the issue of training multilingual professionals," Zhumagulov said. “This is extremely important for Kazakhstan, which is rapidly developing its open economy and social sphere.”

Zhumagulov indicated that Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev had set a target for Kazakhstan to become highly educated with a population speaking three languages: Kazakh, Russian and English – hence the special measures to develop multilingual education.

Commenting on the establishment of the Central Asian higher education area, International Islamic University Malaysia Dean Hassanuddeen Abd Aziz said it could be among the “practical steps for initiating the setting up of an Islamic 'space' for higher education that was launched in June 2011 by the federation of the universities of the Islamic world in cooperation with the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation".

He concluded that the Central Asian higher education area, along with the Arab higher education area planned by Egypt’s Supreme Council of Universities, would play “a vital role in fostering mutual recognition of degrees among universities as well as facilitating cooperation to enhance exchange of information, experience, researchers and students".
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