Scientific Research in the Arab World: Reality or fiction?

imageLast year, during the period from June 26-30, I attended the 25th conference of NAAMA (National Arab American Medical Association) in Le Meridien Hotel in Amman. During the conference, I heard many Arab American doctors stressing the importance of Medical Research for medical students who want to pursuit their higher studies in the USA and other western countries.

Because of how much this subject was stressed, I went back to my faculty with the goal of starting a research in whatever field of medicine. I set up this goal only to be later on shocked by how unrealistic is such a goal!

Frankly speaking, my university curriculum does not require students neither to prepare nor to publish any medical research as part of their undergraduate studies. In the USA, on the other hand, it is a different story. Dr. Wael K. Al-Delaimy, an Iraqi-American professor told me during the same conference:

Dr. Wael K. Al-Delaimy

Dr. Wael K. Al-Delaimy

“In contrary to the situation in our Arab countries, before graduating, US students are required to prepare at least one research”

The above sad fact is the most important obstacle that faced me. Firstly, I will find hardship in finding a professor that will be available solely for the aim of helping me in doing a research. Secondly, the huge time that any student will spend in doing a research would not be compensated with marks. Certainly, this will affect the university marks of the students who will be subtracting time from studying their university curriculum and investing it in a research.

Dr. Aiman Hamdan, a Jordan Unviersity of Science and Technology graduate (second batch), who is now a cardiologist in the United States and certified with seven boards, had the following to say regarding this sad fact:

Dr. Aiman Hamdan

Dr. Aiman Hamdan

“During my University years in JUST, if my father knew that I am doing a research and not studying to get high marks, he would have KILLED me!”

Source: Dr. Aiman Hamdan said the above comment in a lecture he gave –with other Arab-American doctors- about studying in the USA in King Abdullah University Hospital in Irbid in June 2011 as part of the activities of NAAMA’s 25th conference.

Despite the hardship mentioned above, I enrolled in two researches; lucky me!

image“Finally,” I happily thought, “I will be doing what students in developed country are doing!”.  “But could this be a reality? Is that possible?” I found hardship in accepting this very happy piece of news. But at the end… Why should I not hope? How are students in Harvard university better than me?[3]

I felt like I was finally going to achieve something! I will not only be graduating with a certificate, but also, having mastered how to prepare and publish a research! I felt too proud of the notion of having my name on a published research in a medical journal. Can you imagine how important is this achievement?

imageMy happiness did not last long. The first research ended because we discovered that we were collecting “useless” data that no conclusions can be drawn from it [Update 09.04.2012: This was a wrong conclusion. Things went differently than I and my colleagues calculated… It is one of the times in which you are happy when your calculations turn out to be wrong! Read more!]

The second reserach was very succesfful. However, due to deduction of the amount of credit our supervising doctors will get from including us in the publication, I refused to be included in the publication “initially”. Still, the supervising doctor refused but to include us in the publication. “I have an enlightening plan!” The doctor said. “I came back from abroad with a main aim of letting you do what I was taught abroad”. Truthfully, this doctor is sacrificying a lot by including us in the publication. What he is doing would be normal where he studied abroad, but is the situation the same here in the Arab world? Do universities in the arab wrold care about scientific research? Do our universities provides incentives to both doctors and students to do scientific research?

Frankly speaking, it seems that we have a problem… a big problem… How did I come up with this conclusion? But most importantly, who is responsible?

image

Every year, a report is published on the Academic ranking of World Universities (ARWU), commonly known as the Shanghai ranking. During the year 2011, the following statistics came out:

Universities that have been included in the top 500 world universities on the Shanghai ranking 2011:

Arab Universities[1]

Israeli Universities[2]

A. King Saud University (201-300)B. King Fahd University of Petroleum & Minerals (301-400)C. Cairo University (401-500) A. The Hebrew University of Jerusalem (57)B. Technion-Israel Institute of Technology (102-150)C. Tel Aviv University (102-150)

D. Weizmann Institute of Science (102-150)

E. Bar-Ilan University (301-400)

F. Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (301-400)

G. University of Haifa (401-500)

Total: 3 universities Total: 7 universities
Arab countries v.s. Israel

Arab countries v.s. Israel

To summarize the above table:
Israel, a country with less than 8 million people, has 7 universities among the top 500 universities in the world. While 22 Arab countries with 355 million people, have only 3 universities in the same list!

Finally, and again and again, the first step in solving any problem is to recognize its existence in the first place. Is there a problem in our universities in the Arab world? It is left to your judgment!

So… I belive it is too unfair to attribute the problem to a single doctor, a single university, or a single country! As you can read above, it is a problem of…

[1] “KSU ranked leading arab university by shanghai world rankings”, King Saud University, http://enews.ksu.edu.sa/2011/08/20/ksu-shanghai-world-ranking, retrieved: 05.02.2012

[2] Reuveni, R. “Israel’s Universities are among the 500 top universities in the world” http://thejewishpeopleandisrael-beesting.blogspot.com/2011/09/israels-universities-are-among-500-top.html, retrieved: 05.02.2011

[3] According to 2011 Shanghai Academic Ranking of World Universities, the world ranking of Harvard university is “1”!

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7 Comments:

  1. Wow! This is so interesting! I love reading about these adventures you have! I did not know about the differences between number and ranking of universities. You are no different than a student attending Harvard or any other big university! In fact, you might be luckier! Many of those schools are very big and VERY competitive, so even very good students feel like they are washed away. Many students drop out because of the stress.You have many opportunities. You WILL make a difference in the world! The Arab nations need you to be successful so you can give back and maybe someday teach at a university!

    • Thanks for your words of encouragement.

      Still, some might argue that to be a student that drops from a university because of stress, is better than to be a student that studies in a place where he/she thinks that others are provided better opportunities than him/her and not drop!

      It is unfortunate that in 2012, we still live in a world in which not all human beings have access to FREE KNOWLEDGE regardless of their sex, nationality, or ethnicity.

      This leads me to “The Arab Nations need [me] to be successful”. Can you allow me to disagree with you? To me, one reason why knowledge is not still available for all is the ages-old idea of “they” and “we”; nations wanting to advance in knowledge for the sake of competition not for the sake of learning per se!

      To me, learning should aim not only to advance my nation and forget about others, it is about the one future that humanity has. Does it matter now that Newton was British? That the inventors of the computers were Americans? That some of the pioneers in Medicine in the middle ages were Arab Muslims?

      I can not imagine the world without Facebook, Google, and Youtube. These were not available only 10 years ago. Still, future technology can bring more and more advances to humanity. One good and simple way of accelerating these new discoveries is opening door for free knowledge to all human beings.

      Will there come a day in which students in Harvard Universities be no more at an advantage than students in any poor and underprivileged University in the world? In terms of access to free knowledge, this can be achieved! However, in terms of facilities and financial support, this is probably impossible!

      • I most definitely agree with you on the second part. I support the advancement of free knowledge and the pursuit of knowledge simply for the sake of knowledge. The internet is a great source for this. In reference to your earlier comment, however, someone who drops out of college is in general worse off than someone who does not, especially someone who finishes a medical degree. If you do not graduate, it does not matter what school you dropped out from. It is possible for them to make money without a degree, but it is a harder step. I go to a good public university that is obviously ranked much lower than harvard. However, many of our graduates still do better than some of their graduates in the job market! It is true that if someone comes from a wealthy family, they have more opportunities to be successful. But that is true regardless of nationality. I am sure a very wealthy Arab or Russian will be much better off than a middle class American.

        • “It is true that if someone comes from a wealthy family, they have more opportunities to be successful. But that is true regardless of nationality.” Thank you.

          However, I think that nationality can matter even if you are wealthy. Wealthy Arabs or Russians still need to travel to western countries in order to study in Universities that are ranked highest in the world!

          So, if you are wealthy, you have “more opportunities” to be successful but not necessarily that you will be! (Thank you for using the word opportunity)

          In 1 Timothy 6:10, saint Paul wrote: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil”.

          Mark Twain seems to have read this because he is reported to have said: “The lack of money is the root of all evil.”

          Is “the lack of money” the root of unequal access to free knowledge? yes, I think. But I believe it is but one side of the coin!

          • Yes, I agree! It is very complicated, these social conditions. I love that more knowledge is becoming available through the internet for free. And yes, there are big advantages to coming from a more privileged society (this could also be said, however, comparing Jordan to the Sudan). But I do not think everything needs to move to the west. Perhaps more investments need to be made to improve non-western universities. They need quality professors to teach in the native languages so that quality education can be given to all who seek it. What is your opinion on how the situation could be improved?

          • I love that more knowledge is becoming available through the internet too… Thank you again and again! I guess this is the key to removing boundaries between rich people and poor people and privileged students and underprivileged ones!

            This is a complex issue but very interesting… I have my studies & “researches” and this is all what I should think about at the moment in order to be able to be qualified enough to have the “courage” of applying to Universities such as Harvard in order to complete my higher studies!

            Thank you for the ideas which you brought up Miss LeFevre!

          • I am sure you will be successful.

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