MIDDLE EAST-NORTH AFRICA
Research: Quality, not just quantity, should be improved
This seems to be the first study to examine the impact of research output (quantity and quality) on economic growth separately for each of the 27 research areas in the developing MENA region, according to Chadi Azmeh, associate professor in banking and financial sciences at the International University for Science and Technology in Syria and author of the study. The research was published in the journal Scientometrics on 20 September 2022.
“This is important, since it may give more insight to decision-makers in these countries to choose where to invest their scarce resources to realise a higher level of economic growth,” Azmeh wrote. “Policymakers in the MENA countries need to focus on improving the quality, not the quantity, of research output to realise the expected impact of research on economic growth.”
More patents, but little improvement
This study resonates with the findings of a Saudi study in the Journal of Controversial Ideas published in April 2022. The research indicates that, despite the high scientific output of some Saudi universities, the role of these universities in industrial collaboration, technology advancement, and economic prosperity is low because of their weak performance in entrepreneurship, innovation, and research commercialisation.
Also, the Saudi academic patent number has increased dramatically since 2014, but with minimal improvement in the country’s innovation and start-up performance.
In the MENA study, Azmeh pointed out that, “Given the recent rise in government spending on research and development (R&D) in developing countries, it is highly important to examine the impact of academic research output on economic growth. It enables policymakers to evaluate the return on capital invested in research activities.”
Based on the World Bank Database, the R&D expenditure as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) for Egypt has increased from 0.2 in 2005 to 0.7 in 2018, from 0.3 in 2002 to 0.7 in 2016 in Jordan, from 0.1 in 2003 to 0.9 in 2012 in Saudi Arabia, and from 0.5 in 2011 to 1.3 in 2018 in the United Arab Emirates.
While academic research output was measured by the number of publications per year determining the quantity of research, the number of citations was used to measure the quality of research.
“Even though most of the world universities rankings are based on the number of citations to gauge the quality of research in each university, this measure is only an approximation. The quality of research should be measured by its impact on the well-being of society,” the study pointed out.
Quantity negatively impacts GDP
The data for research quantity and quality was collected from the Scopus database published on the SCImago website which provides information about the number of publications and citations for all countries in all subject categories or within specific fields. Data on economic growth and all other control variables was collected from world development indicators.
The findings suggest that the “number of research publications (quantity) has a negative impact on real per capita gross domestic product (GDP) growth at a 5% significance level”.
“In contrast, the empirical estimates show a positive and significant impact of the quality of research output, measured by the number of citations, on real per capita GDP growth at a 10% significance level.”
“Our results are in line and confirm the concerns of the Department for International Development (DFID UK), who proclaim that funding research activities in developing countries had an important opportunity cost, since their scarce resources could have been easily channelled towards the course of poverty reduction interventions,” the study stated.
“They give evidence of an important negative impact on economic growth, if policymakers in the MENA countries opt to fund research activities just to increase the volume of research output,” the study added.
“The huge sums allocated to finance research will be deprived from other uses which may have more positive and important impact on economic development,” the study explained.
DFID UK’s view was outlined in a literature review, ‘What is the evidence on the impact of research on international development?’
The results support an important and statistically significant impact of (quality) research output on economic growth in the following research areas: biochemistry, genetics and molecular biology, business, management and accounting, computer sciences, energy, engineering, mathematics, and physics and astronomy, the study found.
Besides allocating resources to build new laboratories in universities and research centres in these fields, equipping them with new technology and the most sophisticated equipment, policymakers should also incite researchers, especially in these fields, to publish their research in the most prestigious international journals (that is journals in the top 10 percentile in Scopus) by honouring them and giving them prizes for their research, according to the study.