ISLAMIC WORLD: Plan to reform nations' universities

The 57 Islamic states have approved a plan to upgrade their universities as a means of achieving world-class status, as well as reforming them to become "functional developmental institutes" providing valuable resources for business, industry and society.

The plan was announced at a workshop, Achieving Excellence in Higher Education, in Ifrane in Morocco earlier this month. It was organised by the Islamic development bank of the 57 members of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference and Al-Akhawayn University. The conference consists of countries from the Middle East, Africa, Central Asia, Caucasus, Balkans, Southeast Asia and South Asia.

The aim of the plan is to build a critical mass of world-class scientists and technologists in targeted science and technology areas, while also promoting relevant research and development outcomes for the private sector.

Fifteen institutions, five from Africa, Asia and the Arab world, were identified to carry out the upgrades and reform, and to promote scientific research in agriculture, nanotechnology and information and communication technologies.

The institutions were selected using international and regional university rankings, as well as their readiness to meet the demands and their likely impact on the development of knowledge-based economy.

The plan will be tested in a pilot programme involving three institutions from Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Eventually, at least 12 additional institutions around the various Islamic states will be involved.

A diagnostic report for each institution will be prepared to ensure it has the necessary minimum standards to leap-frog to excellence and to precisely define the objectives to be reached by the end of the upgrading.

As the shortcomings of science in the Islamic states have been highlighted by the lack of entrepreneurship and innovation in the region, partnerships between the selected science and technology institutions and the private sector will be established.

A quality assurance system will be incorporated and benchmarks established as indicators of the quality and achievements will be monitored.

"The roadmap will have a good impact on building a sustainable development and equipping the future generation with new scientific skills, technological knowledge and innovative ideas, if it is properly managed and supported financially," said Ahmed Legrouri, co-chair of the workshop and dean of science and engineering at Al Akhawayn University.

Abdalla Khogali, dean of faculty of engineering at Khartoum University in the Sudan, told University World News: "The Islamic world is not poor in resources but it needs the political support to see the benefits of higher education for the development of knowledge-based economy. There is a lot of talk and countless meetings on these issues but very little concrete actions on the ground. I sincerely hope it will be different this time."