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Professor: ‘certification’ mania hobbles Middle East development

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Leading scholar says region must place more importance on liberal arts, not just science and engineering, to build better societies by Anna McKie could be an unprecedented way of covering the recurring issue of underdevelopment not through traditional knowledge but by using the art and humanities knowledge. Let us see what is proposed as per the very words of a Professor: ‘certification’ mania hobbles Middle East development.

The picture above is for illustration and is of another article on how a MENA summit weighs liberal arts’ role in post-Covid recovery by the Times Higher Education.

Professor: ‘certification’ mania hobbles Middle East development

April 8, 2021

Students in the Middle East and North Africa are too often more interested in “acquiring” a degree than developing the understanding that should come with it, a leading scholar has warned.

Safwan Masri, Columbia University’s executive vice-president for global centres and global development, said too many young people were steered into courses focused on science and engineering when critical thinking and intercultural understanding were desperately needed across the region.

Source: iStock

Speaking at Times Higher Education’s MENA Universities Summit, Professor Masri said future leaders being trained in institutions across the region were “not fully prepared to lead”, the product of “technocratic societies led by a global technocratic class”.

“Students – and the parents who bankroll them – are often more interested in acquiring professional certification than truly understanding the world and the role of an educated citizen within it,” said Professor Masri.

“Here in MENA, young people fortunate enough to attend university are almost unilaterally steered into STEM training.

“But STEM competency is only half of the equation. We need people who also know how to organise societies, articulate and secure alignment on political ideals, and build robust civil societies that expand rights and freedoms to historically marginalised groups.”

Professor Masri, an expert on the contemporary Arab world and the head of Columbia’s study centre in Amman, Jordan, said the solution had to be a greater embrace of liberal arts education across the region.

He acknowledged that this “won’t be easy” because generations of Arabs “have been indoctrinated with hyper-nationalist propaganda, exclusionary rhetoric and dogmatic religious discourse at the expense of critical thinking and questioning skills”.

“Progress cannot be achieved without deprogramming and reprogramming this mindset, to learn to coexist with different points of view and ways of life,” Professor Masri said.

“Unless liberal arts training is more highly valued in this region, the region’s ambitions will be thwarted. We must achieve balance. We must help students – and the parents who fund many of them – understand the crucial interplay between content [of academic training] and context [understanding of society].”

At the summit, held online in partnership with NYU Abu Dhabi, Professor Masri also argued that at a time of geopolitical turmoil and “historic levels of misunderstanding” between countries and the people within them, knowledge diplomacy led by universities “may be our last and best tool if we are to rebuild a broken world”. He highlighted Columbia’s decision to maintain its global centre in Istanbul even in the face of increasing persecution of academics.

“The solution wasn’t to give in, we contended, but to dig in – to support academics and students, to continue to share knowledge,” Professor Masri said.

But Professor Masri expressed concern about the “weaponisation” of knowledge, highlighting that while Gulf states’ attempts to exercise soft power by funding Middle East studies centres in Western universities ostensibly had “no strings attached”, there were “uncomfortable stories” of researchers at these centres coming under pressure after writing about issues such as human rights and democracy.

A better model of knowledge diplomacy, he argued, was that of the Covid vaccines, which were the result of thousands of researchers crossing the globe over decades, generating the knowledge that informed the vaccines’ designs.

“The Covid vaccine represents decades’ worth, perhaps even centuries’ worth, of university-generated knowledge – distilled down to little more than an ounce of liquid, all concentrated in a single shot,” Professor Masri said.

“This medical and scientific breakthrough will reconnect the people of the world.”

anna.mckie@timeshighereducation.com

Twitter: @annamckie

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Ensuring a Stronger and Fairer Global Recovery

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Mohamed A. El-Erian writes that ensuring a Stronger and Fairer Global Recovery is required for a better and more satisfactory tomorrow. The two ginormous economies of the World would lead it that way. Here is what he says about that.

Ensuring a Stronger and Fairer Global Recovery

2 April 2021

Although tough trade-offs are sometimes unavoidable, there is a way for policymakers to maintain a robust global economic recovery in 2021 and beyond while simultaneously pulling up disadvantaged countries, groups, and regions. But it will require both national and international policy adaptations.

CAMBRIDGE – An old joke about tricky trade-offs asks you to imagine your worst enemy driving over a cliff in your brand-new car. Would you be happy about the demise of your enemy or sad about the destruction of your car?

For many, the shape of this year’s hoped-for and much-needed global economic recovery poses a similar dilemma. Absent a revamp of both national policies and international coordination, the significant pickup in growth expected in 2021 will be very uneven, both across and within countries. With that comes a host of risks that could make growth in subsequent years less robust than it can and should be.

Based on current information, I expect rapid growth in China and the United States to drive a global expansion of 6% or more this year, compared to a 3.5% contraction in 2020. But while Europe should exit its double-dip recession, the recovery there will likely be more subdued. Parts of the emerging world are in an even tougher position.

Much of this divergence, both actual and anticipated, stems from variations in one or more of five factors. Controlling COVID-19 infections, including the spread of new coronavirus variants, is clearly crucial. So is distributing and administering vaccines (which includes securing supplies, overcoming institutional obstacles, and ensuring public uptake). A third factor is financial resilience, which in some developing countries involves preemptively managing difficulties from the recent debt surge. Then come the quality and flexibility of policymaking, and finally whatever is left in the reservoirs of social capital and human resilience.

The bigger the differences between and within countries, the greater the challenges to the sustainability of this year’s recovery. This reflects a broad range of health, economic, financial, and socio-political factors.

In a recent commentary, I explained why more uniform global progress on COVID-19 vaccination is important even for countries whose national immunization programs are far ahead of the pack. Without universal progress, leading vaccinators face a difficult choice between risking the importation of new variants from abroad and running a fortress economy with governments, households, and firms adopting a bunker-like mindset.

Uneven economic recoveries deprive individual countries of the tailwind of synchronized expansion, in which simultaneous output and income growth fuels a virtuous cycle of generalized economic well-being. They also increase the risks of trade and investment protectionism, as well as disruptions to supply chains.

Then there is the financial angle. Buoyant US growth, together with higher inflation expectations, has pushed market interest rates higher, with spillovers for the rest of the world. And there is more to come.

European Central Bank officials have already complained about “undue tightening” of financial conditions in the eurozone. Rising interest rates could also undermine the dominant paradigm in financial markets – namely, investors’ high confidence in ample, predictable, and effective liquidity injections by systemically important central banks, which has encouraged many to venture well beyond their natural habitat, taking considerable if not excessive and irresponsible risks. In the short term, high liquidity has pushed cheap funding to many countries and companies. But sudden reversals in fund flows, as well as the growing risk of cumulative market accidents and policy mistakes, could cause severe disruptions.

Finally, uneven economic recovery risks aggravating the income, wealth, and opportunity gaps that the COVID-19 crisis has already widened enormously. The greater the inequality, particularly with respect to opportunity, the sharper the sense of alienation and marginalization, and the more likely political polarization will impede good and timely policymaking.

But, whereas the old joke hinges on the unavoidability of tough trade-offs, there is a middle way for the global economy in 2021 and beyond – one that maintains a robust recovery and simultaneously lifts disadvantaged countries, groups, and regions. This requires both national and international policy adaptations.

National policies need to accelerate reforms that combine economic relief with measures to foster much more inclusive growth. This is not just about improving human productivity (through labor reskilling, education reforms, and better childcare) and the productivity of capital and technology (through major upgrades to infrastructure and coverage). To build back better and fairer, policymakers must now also consider climate resilience as a critical input for more comprehensive decision-making.Sign up for our weekly newsletter, PS on Sunday

Global policy alignment also is vital. The world is fortunate to have benefited initially from correlated (as opposed to coordinated) national policies in response to the COVID-19 crisis, with the vast majority of countries opting upfront for an all-in, whatever-it-takes, whole-of-government approach. But without coordination, policy stances will increasingly diverge, as less robust economies confront additional external headwinds at a time of declining aid flows, incomplete debt relief, and hesitant foreign direct investment.

With the US and China leading a significant pickup in growth, the global economy has an opportunity to spring out of a pandemic shock that has harmed many people and, in some cases, erased a decade of progress on poverty reduction and other important socio-economic objectives. But without policy adaptations at home and internationally, this rebound could be so uneven that it prematurely exhausts the prolonged period of faster and much more inclusive and sustainable growth that the global economy so desperately needs.

MOHAMED A. EL-ERIAN, President of Queens’ College, University of Cambridge, is a former chairman of US President Barack Obama’s Global Development Council. He was named one of Foreign Policy’s Top 100 Global Thinkers four years running. He is the author of two New York Times bestsellers, including most recently The Only Game in Town: Central Banks, Instability, and Avoiding the Next Collapse.

Startup 3-D prints solar-powered bionic hands

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Caroline Nelly Perrot reports that a Tunisian startup 3-D prints solar-powered bionic hands .

A Tunisian startup is developing a 3-D-printed bionic hand, hoping the affordable and solar-powered prosthetic will help amputees and other disabled people across Africa.

Unlike traditional devices, the artificial hand can be customised for children and youths, who otherwise require an expensive series of resized models as they grow up.

The company Cure Bionics also has plans to develop a video game-like virtual reality system that helps youngsters learn how to use the artificial hand through physical therapy.

Tunisian startup Cure Bionics are developing a prototype of an artificial hand, which they hope will be more affordable to help amputees and other disabled people

Mohamed Dhaouafi, the 28-year-old founder and CEO of Cure Bionics, designed his first prototype while still an engineering student in his home city Sousse.

“One team member had a cousin who was born without a hand and whose parents couldn’t afford a prosthesis, especially as she was still growing up,” he said.

“So we decided to design a hand.”

Dhaouafi launched his start-up in 2017 from his parents’ home, at a time when many of his classmates chose to move abroad seeking higher salaries and international experience.

“It was like positive revenge,” he told AFP. “I wanted to prove I could do it. I also want to leave a legacy, to change people’s lives.”

Dhaouafi pointed to hurdles in Tunisia, where it can be hard or impossible to order parts via large online sales sites. There is a lack of funding and, he said, “we lack visionaries within the state”.

The bionic hand is made of Lego-like parts that can be replaced if damaged or to match a child’s physical growth

But by pooling money raised through sponsored competitions and seed investment from a US company, he was able to recruit four young engineers.

They are now fine-tuning designs, writing code and testing the artificial hand.

‘Climb like Spiderman’

The device works with sensors attached to the arm that detect muscle movement, and AI-assisted software that interprets them to transmit instructions to the digits.

The hand itself has a wrist that can turn sideways, a mechanical thumb and fingers that bend at the joints in response to the electronic impulses.

To teach youngsters how to use them, Cure has been working on a virtual-reality headset that “gamifies” the physical therapy process.

“Currently, for rehabilitation, children are asked to pretend to open a jar, for example, with the hand they no longer have,” said Dhaouafi.

“It takes time to succeed in activating the muscles this way. It’s not intuitive, and it’s very boring.”

In Cure’s version, the engineer said: “We get them to climb up buildings like Spiderman, with a game score to motivate them, and the doctor can follow up online from a distance”.

3-D printing meanwhile makes it possible to personalise the prosthesis like a fashion accessory or “a superhero’s outfit”, said Dhaouafi.

Cure hopes to market its first bionic hands within a few months, first in Tunisia and then elsewhere in Africa, where more than three-quarters of people in need have no access to them, according to the World Health Organization.

“The aim is to be accessible financially but also geographically,” said Dhaouafi.

The envisaged price of around $2,000 to $3,000 is substantial, but a fraction of the cost of bionic prostheses currently imported from Europe.

‘Leapfrog technology’

Cure also aims to manufacture as close as possible to the end users, with local technicians measuring the patients and then printing individually fitted devices.

“An imported prosthesis today means weeks or even months of waiting when you buy it, and again with each repair,” the inventor said.

Tunisian engineers test a prototype of an artificial hand, which they hope will be produced at a lower price than existing prostheses

The bionic hand is made of Lego-like parts that can be replaced if damaged or to match a child’s physical growth.

It can also be solar-powered via a photovoltaic charger for use in regions without a reliable electricity supply.

The 3-D printing of rudimentary prostheses started about a decade ago and is becoming standard.

It is not a magic solution because specialised medical know-how is still crucial, said Jerry Evans, who heads Nia Technologies, a Canadian non-commercial organisation that helps African hospitals manufacture 3-D-printed lower limbs.

“3-D printing is still in its early stages,” he said, “but it is a major game changer in the field of prosthetics and orthotics.”

“Developing countries will probably leapfrog to these technologies because the cost is much lower.”

A New Solar and Lighting technology

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Sam Stranks, University of Cambridge describes “How a new solar and lighting technology could propel a renewable energy transformation”. This will undeniably come to some help those countries that have opted strongly for renewables, such as Tunisia.

The demand for cheaper, greener electricity means that the energy landscape is changing faster than at any other point in history. This is particularly true of solar-powered electricity and battery storage. The cost of both has dropped at unprecedented rates over the past decade and energy efficient technologies such as LED lighting have also expanded.

Access to cheap and ubiquitous solar power and storage will transform the way we produce and use power, allowing electrification of the transport sector. There is potential for new chemical-based economies in which we store renewable energy as fuels, and support new devices making up an “internet of things”.

But our current energy technologies won’t lead us to this future: we will soon hit efficiency and cost limits. The potential for future reductions in the cost of electricity from silicon solar, for example, is limited. The manufacture of each panel demands a fair amount of energy and factories are expensive to build. And although the cost of production can be squeezed a little further, the costs of a solar installation are now dominated by the extras – installation, wiring, the electronics and so on.

Workers in a factory of a Chinese solar panel maker in Hangzhou, China. EPA/STR

This means that current solar power systems are unlikely to meet the required fraction of our 30 TeraWatt (TW) global power requirements (they produce less than 1 TW today) fast enough to address issues such as climate change.

Likewise, our current LED lighting and display technologies are too expensive and not of good enough colour quality to realistically replace traditional lighting in a short enough time frame. This is a problem, as lighting currently accounts for 5% of the world’s carbon emissions. New technologies are needed to fill this gap, and quickly.

Halide perovskites

Our lab in Cambridge, England, is working with a promising new family of materials known as halide perovskites. They are semiconductors, conducting charges when stimulated with light. Perovskite inks are deposited onto glass or plastic to make extremely thin films – around one hundredth of the width of a human hair – made up of metal, halide and organic ions. When sandwiched between electrode contacts, these films make solar cell or LED devices.

Amazingly, the colour of light they absorb or emit can be changed simply by tweaking their chemical structure. By changing the way we grow them, we can tailor them to be more suitable for absorbing light (for a solar panel) or emitting light (for an LED). This allows us to make different colour solar cells and LEDs emitting light from the ultra-violet, right through to the visible and near-infrared.

Despite their cheap and versatile processing, these materials have been shown to be remarkably efficient as both solar cells and light emitters. Perovskite solar cells hit 25.2% efficiency in 2019, hot on the heels of crystalline silicon cells at 26.7%, and perovskite LEDs are already approaching off-the-shelf organic light-emitting diode (OLED) performances.

These technologies are rapidly being commercialised, particularly on the solar cell front. UK-based Oxford Photovoltaics has built a production line and is filling its first purchase orders in early 2021. Polish company Saule Technologies released prototype products at the end of 2018, including a perovskite solar façade pilot. Chinese manufacturer Microquanta Semiconductor expects to produce more than 200,000 square meters of panels in its production line before year-end. The US-based Swift Solar (a company I co-founded) is pioneering high-performance cells with lightweight, flexible properties.

Coloured perovskite light-emitting inks that can be cast down into thin films. © Sandeep Pathak, Author provided

Between these and other companies, there is rapid progress being made.

Solar windows and flexible panels

Unlike conventional silicon cells, which need to be very uniform for high efficiency, perovskite films are comprised of mosaic “grains” of highly variable size (from nano-meters to millimeters) and chemistry – and yet they perform nearly as well as the best silicon cells today. What’s more, small blemishes or defects in perovskite films do not lead to significant power losses. Such defects would be catastrophic for a silicon panel or a commercial LED.

Although we are still trying to understand this, these materials are forcing the community to rewrite the textbook for what we consider as an ideal semiconductor: they can have very good optical and electronic properties in spite of – or perhaps even because of – disorder.

Light emitted from mosaic grains in a perovskite film. Dane deQuilettes/Sam Stranks

We could hypothetically use these materials to make “designer” coloured solar cells that blend in to buildings or houses, or solar windows that look like tinted glass yet generate power.

But the real opportunity is to develop highly efficient cells beyond the efficiency of silicon cells. For example, we can layer two different coloured perovskite films together in a “tandem” solar cell. Each layer would harvest different regions of the solar spectrum, increasing the overall efficiency of the cell.

Another example is what Oxford PV are pioneering: adding a perovskite layer on top of a standard silicon cell, boosting the efficiency of the existing technology without significant additional cost. These tandem layering approaches could quickly create a boost in efficiency of solar panels beyond 30%, which would reduce both the panel and system costs while also reducing their energy footprint.

These perovskite layers are also being developed to manufacture flexible solar panels that can be processed to roll like newsprint, further reducing costs. Lightweight, high-power solar also opens up possibilities for powering electric vehicles and communication satellites.

For LEDs, perovskites can achieve fantastic colour quality which could lead to advanced flexible display technologies. Perovskites could also give cheaper, higher quality white lighting than today’s commercial LEDs, with the “colour temperature” of a globe able to be manufactured to give cool or warm white light or any desired shade in between. They are also generating excitement as building blocks for future quantum computers, as well as X-Ray detectors for extremely low dose medical and security imaging.

Although the first products are already emerging, there are still challenges. One key issue is demonstrating long-term stability. But the research is promising, and once these are resolved, halide perovskites could truly propel the transformation of our energy production and consumption.

Sam Stranks, Lecturer in Energy and Royal Society University Research Fellow, University of Cambridge

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Arabic Citation Index in Egypt by Clarivate

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The most populous usage of the language and culture must be the reason Arabic Citation Index in Egypt by Clarivate has finally made it to the MENA region reports CISION’s PRNews.


Clarivate Launches the Arabic Citation Index in Egypt

Journal submissions now open to journals from across the 22 Arab League countries

LONDON, Aug. 17, 2020 /PRNewswire/ — Clarivate Plc (NYSE:CCC), a global leader in providing trusted information and insights to accelerate the pace of innovation, has now launched the Arabic Citation Index™ (ARCI), the world’s first local language citation index for the Arabic world in Egypt.

The ARCI is funded by the Egyptian government, and is available across the entire research community in Egypt. It is also open to journal submissions by editors of Arabic-language journals and will be open to researchers and organisations in all 22 nations of the Arab League by the end of 2020.

Powered by the Web of Science™, the world’s largest publisher-independent global citation index, the ARCI provides access to bibliographic information and citations to scholarly articles from over 400 expertly curated Arabic journals, with language interface in both English and Arabic. The indexing of Arabic publications will provide local scientific communities with improved routes to collaborating with national, regional, and international research efforts – extending the Arabic academic footprint.

The ARCI is now open for journal submissions. Journals will be selected by an expert, publisher-neutral editorial board from across Arab League Nations, who will provide regional insights and subject knowledge. Journals are eligible for inclusion if they meet the selection criteria, which require peer-reviewed and accessible content. The editorial board will consider trends in local research pursuits and publishing activity in the region.

Mukhtar Ahmed, President, Science Group at Clarivate said: “The Arabic Citation Index, hosted on the Web of Science, will provide scientific communities across the Arabic world with the ability to make their journals, and the discoveries within them, more accessible within their region and beyond. It will connect papers in Arabic journals to more than 1.7 billion cited references and the highest quality research from across the globe.

“The ARCI is a significant endeavour created in close partnership with the Egyptian government and represents the latest in a long series of developments and investments in the Web of Science platform. We believe that it will enable human ingenuity in the region, helping Arabic researchers and editors turn their discoveries into life-changing inventions.”

Dr. Tarek Showki, Minister of Education & Technical Education, Egypt, President of Egyptian Knowledge Bank Project said: “We are delighted to see the ARCI launch. It has long been part of our 2030 Vision to transform Egypt into a ‘knowledge economy’ and will be the first ever mapping of Arabic scholarly literature in a citation index, helping us to evaluate the quality and research output of Arabic researchers, universities and research organizations.”

Eng. Majid Al Sadek, Director of The Egyptian National Scientific and Technical Information Network (ENSTINET) added, “The indexing of Arabic publications will now provide our local scientific communities with the ability to contribute to not only national and regional research efforts but also internationally, helping us to extend the Arabic academic footprint further.” 

Mrs. Ola W. Laurence, Independent Consultant for the Professional Services of Egyptian Knowledge Bank was instrumental in driving this initiative forward.  She added, “This important project will make Arabic scholarly content more accessible, connecting it to more than 1.7 billion cited research references and the highest quality, peer-reviewed scholarly content from across the globe. I believe it will help drive usage of local content, as well as providing access to the highest-quality, peer-reviewed content from around the world.”

For more information on selection criteria, see the brochure, and click here for more information on how to submit a journal.

Notes to editors: The ARCI will be the fifth regional citation index developed by the Web of Science, alongside the Chinese Science Citation Database™ SciELO Citation Index™, Russian Science Citation Index™ and the KCI-Korean Journal Database™.

About Clarivate

Clarivate™ is a global leader in providing trusted information and insights to accelerate the pace of innovation. We offer subscription and technology-based solutions coupled with deep domain expertise that cover the entire lifecycle of innovation – from foundational research and ideas to protection and commercialization. Today, we’re setting a trail-blazing course to help customers turn bold ideas into life-changing inventions. Our portfolio consists of some of the world’s most trusted information brands, including the Web of Science™, Cortellis™, Derwent™, CompuMark™, MarkMonitor™ and Techstreet™. For more information, please visit clarivate.com.

About the Egyptian Knowledge Bank

The Egyptian Knowledge Bank is a national project launched in November 24th, 2015 by the President of Egypt, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, to offer each Egyptian citizen with the chance to learn, think and innovate. The Egyptian Knowledge Bank is the largest digital library and online knowledge hub providing students, researchers and all Egyptians with access to free education and scientific publications in various branches of knowledge.

Forward-Looking Statements 

This press release and any statements included herein may contain forward-looking statements regarding Clarivate. Forward-looking statements provide current expectations or forecasts of future events and may include statements regarding results, anticipated synergies and other future expectations. These statements involve risks and uncertainties including factors outside of the control of Clarivate that may cause actual results to differ materially. Clarivate undertakes no obligation to update or revise the statements made herein, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise. 

Contact details: Amy Bourke-Waite, Director of External Communications, Science Group. Media.enquiries@clarivate.com