Bioethics and technological capability boost

The establishment of a UNESCO chair for biosciences ethics at the University of Khartoum in Sudan should strengthen related teaching and research programmes, while the recent opening of a branch of the Arab Science and Technology Foundation in the capital is set to boost university-industry alliances.

The UNESCO chair was approved by the Council of Ministers, chaired by Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, on 25 January. This is the second Africa-based UNESCO chair in bioethics, the Kenya-based one having been established in 1998 at Egerton University.

The new chair will focus on reinforcing Sudan’s teaching and research programme in the field of bioethics at university level and giving it an international dimension.

Integration of research, training, information and documentation in the fields of ethics of life sciences is to be promoted. The chair will also facilitate collaboration between internationally recognised academics at the University of Khartoum and other universities in Sudan, Africa and the world.

“Although there is great emphasis by researchers to discuss topics about bioethics in workshops, seminars, meetings etc, teaching of bioethics courses to students is not taken seriously,” stated a 2008 report on scientific policy and ethical review in Sudan.

“There are individual efforts to give introductory information about bioethics in a few universities; however, integration of such courses and their approval as part of the curriculum is not established as yet.”

Sudan has hosted the UNESCO chair of marine biology and oceanography, established in 2006 at the Sudan Institute for Natural Sciences in partnership with the University of Khartoum and Red Sea University.

The United Arab Emirates-based Arab Science and Technology Foundation opened a new branch and representative office in Khartoum on 1 January to coincide with Sudan's independence day celebrations.

Key among the aims is to strengthen Sudan's technological capability and promote science and technology-based sustainable development through enhancing university-industry alliances.

Eltayeb Mohamed Abdelgadir, a researcher at the Sudan-based Agricultural Research Corporation, welcomed the new developments.

“These initiatives will partially help in tackling deficiencies in the tertiary education system as well as promoting the role of scientific research carried out at universities in the development of local technologies,” Abdelgadir told University World News.

The country’s limited technological capability can be attributed to, among other things, the general absence of a research and development culture and few R&D efforts, low skills levels, lack of resources, low levels of knowledge transfer and cooperation between universities and industry, and lack of an entrepreneurial perspective.

This is according to a December 2011 report titled Technological Change and Skill Development: The case of Sudan, based on research conducted by the Maastricht Economic and Social Research Institute on Innovation and Technology.

The report cites as major causes of weaknesses in tertiary education: low quality and internal inefficiency of the education system; lack of infrastructure (due to inadequate public spending on education); inadequate assessment and monitoring of educational needs; inadequate educational planning; lack of modernisation and dynamism; lack of flexibility of educational institutions; and weak links between universities, colleges and technical and training institutes.