US-ISLAMIC WORLD: New technology and innovation fund

The US Overseas Private Investment Corporation has launched a global technology and innovation fund to facilitate science-based private sector investments that promote technology developments for a knowledge-based society in the Muslim world.

Announcement of the fund last month was the first step in a US-Islamic States cooperation plan for higher education, science, technology and innovation. The plan was launched during US President Barack Obama's historic address, A new beginning, at the University of Cairo last June.

The fund will provide up to US$150 million for selected projects to advance economic opportunity and create jobs in areas such as higher education, telecommunication and clean technology

"This fund will reinforce the major science and higher education-oriented initiatives that Islamic countries have launched to position themselves as serious players in the global knowledge economy," Ismail Serageldin, Director of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Egypt, told University World News.

Serageldin said the best contribution the US could make was to share ideas and lessons on how to create technology-based enterprises. More would need to be done to build schools of entrepreneurship in the region.

His words were echoed by Kenyan scientist Calestous Juma, Drector of the Science, Technology & Globalization project at Harvard University, who told University World News: "The initiative will help bring the vast fund of world scientific knowledge to promote economic prosperity in the Islamic States bearing in mind that half of them are located in Africa".

Juma said the Muslim world would need to deepen its commitment to innovation by expanding science and technology education, especially for girls. "This is not just a challenge for Islamic countries but a task for the rest of the world," he said.

Atta-ur-Rahman, Coordinator General of the Standing Committee on Scientific and Technological Cooperation of the 57-country Organization of the Islamic Conference, welcomed the new fund:"There are urgent higher education initiatives priorities the US should take to implement the plan," Atta-ur-Rahman said.

These included promoting distance learning for higher education through developing strong partnerships with US universities that have strong distance learning programmes so US degrees could be offered in OIC member countries at affordable costs.

Besides training academics for universities to tackle the acute shortage of high-quality PhDs in OIC countries, training of teachers for technical institutes was also needed. A network of high-quality technical training institutes with full four-year programmes and degrees offered by collaborating with US college and universities would also help.

Distance learning PhDs?

Stephen Everhart