ISLAMIC WORLD: More science in higher education

Higher education and science and technology ministers from member countries of the Jeddah-based Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) have decided unanimously to make curricula in universities of member states more science-oriented.

At the 14th meeting of the OIC Standing Committee on Scientific and Technological Cooperation (COMSTECH), which concluded in the Pakistan capital Islamabad on 13 January, representatives of various organisations including universities agreed to increase science and technology human resource development, establish centres of excellence in universities and promote university-industry collaboration.

As well as 110 delegates from 24 international science and higher education institutions, 26 ministers of science and higher education from Pakistan, Iran, Jordan, Egypt, Malaysia, Bangladesh and other countries of the OIC participated in the meeting.

The gathering also emphasised the need to provide enough resources to foster a culture of competitive research in member countries' universities.

"We can make knowledge-based economies only through a research-based education system which focuses on scientific innovation and technological advancement," said Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, inaugurating the meeting on 11 January.

OIC Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu of Turkey said: "A research-centric education is the only way out of economic problems."

Ihsanoglu said that from an average expenditure of just 0.2% of GDP on research and development in 2005, the average R&D spending of OIC member states had doubled to 0.41%. Countries such as Tunisia were already spending 1% of GDP on research and development while in Turkey it had increased from 0.48% of GDP in 2003 to 0.73% five years later, he said.

The OIC's target is to spend 1% of GDP on research and development.

Atta-ur-Rahman, Pakistan's former science minister and former chairman of the higher education commission, who is currently the head of COMSTECH, said 7% of GDP should be allocated to education.

He also floated the idea of establishing on-campus industrial units.

"Nations cannot progress without heavily investing in education, particularly higher education, which can promise rapid advancement in all sectors including the economy. Islamic nations have decided in this meeting to make higher education institutions more science and innovation-oriented because science takes root from universities," Atta-ur-Rahman told University World News.

A report from the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (ISESCO) said: "Member states need to initiate and strengthen their national innovation systems in higher education to support scientific capacity building and partnership among public and private national stakeholders, including legislators, media and civil society to enable application of scientific knowledge and results to achieve viable economic development."

"Higher education institutions play a fundamental role in imparting education and bringing about economic and social changes in a society," ISESCO Science Director, Faiq Billal, told University World News.

"We have always contributed towards strengthening higher education in OIC member states. We have decided various important actions to be taken up by member states for improving the quality of higher education as well as promotion of science, technology and innovation."

The Islamic Development Bank, Islamic University of Technology, International Islamic University of Malaysia, Islamic University of Niger, Islamic University of Uganda and Islamic Academy of Sciences presented reports describing steps adopted to promote higher education, science, technology and research.