RIYADH: Recalling the Muslim world’s glorious era of scientific achievements, Sultan Ayoub Meo, an eminent scientist and medical academician, asks if science and research
can flourish again in Islamic states.

In an interview to Arab News, Meo, a professor of King Saud University (KSU) who has written about a dozen medical books and authored more than 65 scientific publications, questions as to why the Islamic world seems disengaged from modern science.
Meo, who holds a Ph.D in medical education and four fellowships of highly respected Royal Colleges of the UK and Ireland, called on the member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to invest more in science and technology.

Following are the excerpts from the interview:
Q. Compared to the Western countries, the Islamic world seems disengaged from modern science. What is your perception? Are the number of universities and research institutes sufficient in OIC states?
A: There are about 1,900 universities and degree awarding institutes in the OIC states. However, in the Middle East, their number is not enough compared to their economies and population. Similarly, the number of research institutes are also far below than required. There are about 57 OIC member states with a total population of about 2.08 billion people, which is more than one fourth of the world’s population. Of these, 62 percent of Muslims live in the Asia-Pacific region.
Q. Are the number of universities enough in Arab states? Do you think that more universities and research institutes need to be opened?
A: The total number of universities are 590, which is not enough in view of the population and size of the economies. Of, course there is an urgent need to open more academic and research institutions in the region.
Q. Please tell us the parameters used for ranking universities globally, and which ranking body is more reliable in scientific community?
A: Globally, there are three main university ranking institutes — Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU), QS-Worldwide University Rankings (QS) and The Times Higher Education World University Rankings. In the scientific community, the measuring indicators of ARWU are more reliable.
Q. Would you like to tell us the standing of OIC states’ universities on global level? Do you think that the poor rankings are a cause of concern for us?
A: The Academic Ranking of World Universities, also called Shanghai ranking, announced the ranking of world’s top 500 universities based on well-established objective indicators in science and research.
Amongst the 1,900 universities and institutes in the Islamic world, only nine universities have achieved a place in the top 500 global ranking. The presence of only nine universities from the Muslim world in Shanghai Ranking is alarming.
Q. Would you like to tell us the standing of Saudi universities in global science rankings?
A: In the Kingdom, there are about 70 universities in both public and private sectors, four of which were placed among the top 500. The Riyadh-based King Saud University and the Jeddah-base King Abdulaziz University have achieved the highest positions among Arab and Islamic nations. The remaining two in the list of top 500 universities are King Abdullah University of Science and Technology and King Fahd University of Petroleum & Minerals.
Q: How many Saudi students are currently pursuing higher education abroad? Don’t you think it is a commendable move of the government?
A: Yes, it is really commendable that the Saudi government supports an increasingly large number of students to pursue higher studies and research in foreign countries. Approximately 125,000 Saudi students are pursuing higher education in about 550 universities around the world today.
Q. What about the standing of other universities of the OIC member states?
A: Unfortunately, from the remaining OIC states, Malaysia has two universities, whereas Turkey, Iran and Egypt have one university each with rankings between 401 and 500. However, in Saudi Arabia, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman has lent full support to higher education, especially to graduate studies, science and technology as well as research. Recently, a large number of new universities, research and training institutes were opened in the Kingdom.
Q: How is the situation of spending on research and development in Muslim states?
A: It is again a pathetic situation. The Muslim states allocate very small budgets for research and development. As per a report of the World Bank, the mean annual spending on R&D in Muslim countries, for the last five years, was a meager 0.81 percent of their GDPs compared to the world average of 2.6 percent.
Q: Would you like to tell us which OIC states are spending how much on R&D?
A: Member states of the OIC, especially the Arab states, are rich in natural resources such as oil, gas, gold and copper. Qatar spends only 2.7 percent, Saudi Arabia 0.3 percent, Bahrain 0.2 percent, the UAE 0.15 percent and Kuwait 0.09 percent. Contrary to this, Israel has the world’s biggest science budget with a spending of 4.4 percent of its GDP.
Q. Globally, how many Muslim scientists have won prestigious education and science awards, including the Nobel Prize in science?
A: Muslim countries have produced only two scientists who have won the Nobel. Prof. Abdus Salam from Pakistan won the prize in physics and Prof. Ahmed H Zewail from Egypt in chemistry. Of course, a number of Muslim scientists have won other local, regional and international awards, but the number is not big.
Q. Would you like to tell us about King Faisal International Prize, and how many Muslim scientists have won this award?
A. King Faisal Award is one of the world’s most prestigious prizes which is given every year in five main categories including medicine, and science. But sadly, no Muslim scientist has won this award in medicine. In the science category, the maximum award winners are from the US (11), and the UK (7). However, from the entire Muslim world, only one scientist, Prof. Ahmed H Zewail of Egypt, won the award in 1989.
Q Why are Muslim scientists and researchers not doing better? Why most of them choose to migrate to Western countries.
A: Muslim countries have produced a large number of researchers and scientists but they are experiencing brain drain because of bureaucratic hurdles. Unfriendly environment, unsupportive culture and lack of institutional appreciation are the other major impediments.
Q: How many patents/inventions are coming from the Muslim world? What is the current situation?
A: The total number of patents from Muslim countries is 511,301, while it is 20,895,470 from the UK alone.
Q: What is your message to the Muslim community in particular and the Islamic world in general?
A: Muslim countries must enhance collaboration with high-ranking research institutes, incorporate well-trained scientists and technicians and help them with long-term contracts within the institutions to increase the research productivity and sustainability.

Add Comment