Science‘s Middle Eastern countries ramp up their scientific publications by Jeffrey Brainard, at a time when they all seem to be still looking for a growth model especially needed in these times of pandemic. Here we have a whole region south and east of the Mediterranean whose elites had not been stranger to social mobilization and street politics in the past, presently sparing a little time to research better ways of life.
After years of lagging scientifically, countries in the Middle East and North Africa have significantly boosted their share of scholarly articles in international journals—as well as citations to those papers—during the past 4 decades, the Clarivate analytics firm said last week. Further growth could occur if the region’s countries boost their low rate of scientific cooperation with each other, it said.
From 1981 to 2019, the region quadrupled its share of research articles and reviews to 8%; among regions and large countries, only China grew by more. Clarivate’s report, based on its Web of Science bibliometric database, notes the “outstanding relative growth” of papers from the Middle East and North Africa came despite international sanctions against Iran and violent conflicts in Iraq and elsewhere.
The report covers 19 countries stretching from Morocco to Iran, but only six accounted for 80% of the 150,000 papers by the region’s scholars in 2019: Egypt, Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Tunisia.
Iran led the way with 188,163 papers from 2015 to 2019; its output from 2000 to 2019 rose 30-fold. (Despite reports of paper mills and fake peer reviews involving papers by Iranian authors, the study notes efforts in Iran to tame the problem). At least some of Saudi Arabia’s expansion may have come from non-Saudi researchers affiliated with Saudi institutions.
“The notion that science and technology are essential for economic and societal progress, one of the pillars of the current policy in the European Union, applies to [this] region as well,” said Henk Moed, editor-in-chief of Scholarly Assessment Reports, a journal that covers research metrics, who was not involved in the Clarivate report. “The valuable trends presented in the Clarivate report, therefore, have a certain predictive value for economic and political relations in the region, especially in the somewhat longer term, and provide evidence that Iran’s economic and political role in the region will only grow stronger in the years to come.”
Clusters of the region’s papers focused on sustainable development, including soil erosion, and other areas of applied science, Clarivate said.
These and other publications have attracted growing attention: In 2019, 15 of the 19 countries had a citation score higher than the world average (when adjusted for differences across scholarly disciplines); in 2000, almost all had been well below.
The region’s international collaborations also increased, with 45% of its papers reporting co-authors from other countries in 2019; most often, the co-authors were in the United States. By comparison, the percentage in Western Europe was 65%. Worldwide, articles with such collaborations tend to attract higher citations. But countries in the Middle East and North Africa collaborated little with each other: Only 5% of their articles in 2019 had a co-author from a different country within the region.
Skirting the challenge of bridging long-standing tensions within the region, the Clarivate report encourages the countries to forge closer research ties, which “could improve competitiveness between the region and the rest of the world by focusing on shared needs and priorities.” One mechanism for encouraging regional collaboration could be a joint research-funding organization, similar to that of the European Union, the report said. Focusing on research might also “create more robust educational and social transformation through human resource capacity.”
“This would do much,” the report concludes, to “visibly rebuild the international reputation of Islamic, Arab, Persian and Turkish learning and scholarship that sustained the Western world for centuries.”Posted in:
The MENA region enjoys less academic freedom and it was copiously reported here and there. The countries students’ limitations in academic research study fields ranging from architecture to filmmaking were known for some time. The comparatively limitless European and American universities atmospheres were as always unattainable in terms of openings or ease of integration. Al Fanar Media produced this article by Burton Bollag to confirm that the MENA region enjoys less academic freedom, highlighting the centrally related and common freedom of speech and thoughts problematics.
Arab Region Scores Lowest in the World for Academic Freedom
16 Mar 2021
Scholars and students in the Arab region enjoy less academic freedom than their counterparts elsewhere in the world, the second annual Academic Freedom Index 2020 found.
“If you compare world regions, the MENA region scores worse than others,” said Ilyas Saliba, a researcher at the Global Public Policy Institute, in Berlin, and one of the report’s authors.
He was speaking at a virtual news conference to launch the report on March 11.
“There are a few bright spots, like Tunisia,” he said. A guarantee of academic freedom was included in the country’s rewritten 2014 constitution, making Tunisia the only Arab country to enshrine that right in its basic law.
But overall, the situation in the Arab region is deeply troubling.
The index assesses academic freedom in 175 countries and territories worldwide, placing each in a category going from A, indicating complete freedom of research and teaching, to E, indicating the least academic freedom.
High Marks for Tunisia
Tunisia is the only Arab country in Category A. Category B, indicating a few restrictions, includes Lebanon, the West Bank and the Comoros. Category C, indicating moderate restrictions, includes Kuwait, Libya, Gaza, Morocco, Somalia and Sudan.
The majority of the Arab countries are in Category D or E, indicating severe or complete restrictions, and university teachers and students in those countries face expulsion, jail, or worse if they carry out unwelcome research or express views unpopular with the authorities.
This is the second yearly installment of the Academic Freedom Index. The project was jointly developed by researchers from Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg in Germany, the V-Dem Institute at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, and the Global Public Policy Institute in Berlin, working in close cooperation with the Scholars at Risk Network, based at New York University.
“In the longer term we could still see a more drastic impact. For example: self-censorship in digital teaching.”
Katrin Kinzelbach A professor at Germany’s Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg and one of the report’s authors
The index is compiled from five indicators: (1) freedom to research and teach, (2) freedom of academic exchange and dissemination, (3) institutional autonomy, (4) campus integrity, and (5) freedom of academic and cultural expression. The indicators are assessed by some 2,000 experts, typically academics in the countries being evaluated.
The index can be explored with a powerful graphing visualization tool that can show academic freedom trends over time within a single country or a region.
Particularly sharp deterioration in academic freedom has taken place in Egypt, especially after Abdel Fattah al-Sisi seized power in 2013, and in Turkey after the failed 2016 coup.
Many campuses have been closed during the past year due to the coronavirus pandemic. The impact on academic freedom appears less than was feared, the report’s authors say, but the potential for surveillance of online education is troubling.
“In the longer term we could still see a more drastic impact,” said Katrin Kinzelbach, a professor at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg and one of the report’s authors. “For example: self-censorship in digital teaching.”
Globally, the index finds that from 2019 to 2020, the countries that experienced the largest declines in academic freedom were Belarus, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka and Zambia.
Countries experiencing the largest decline in academic freedom over the past five years were: Brazil, Colombia, Hong Kong, Nicaragua, Turkey and Zambia.
Countries that experienced the largest improvement in academic freedom over the past five years were: Gambia, Kazakhstan, the Maldives, North Macedonia and Sudan.
Universities in the oil-rich Gulf states “are modern and engage in international partnerships. But it is in the context of particularly brutal repression of any forms of dissent,” both on and off campuses.
Laurie A. Brand A professor at the University of Southern California
Still, said report co-author Kinzelbach, “overall we found that only about 20 percent of the world’s population lives in countries where academic freedom is well protected.”
Does a lack of academic freedom really matter? The report argues that it does. “Academic freedom is essential to top-quality teaching and research, which are themselves essential to national competitiveness in a global knowledge economy.”
Which is why the report’s authors argue that the index’s country scores should be used to improve established university rankings. “At present,” the report says, “leading rankings narrowly define academic excellence and reputation as a function of outputs. … They thereby mislead key stakeholders and make it possible for repressive state and higher education authorities to restrict academic freedom without incurring a reputational loss.”
A lack of academic freedom is often associated with countries in conflict, such as Syria, which has one of the lowest ratings in the index. Yet the index presents some surprises. Libya, for example, which is mired in a civil war between two competing governments, ranks in the C, or middle, category.
At the same time, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, three affluent and rapidly modernizing Gulf states, are in Category E, the lowest level.
“It’s paradoxical,” comments Laurie A. Brand, a professor at the University of Southern California and chair of the Middle East Studies Association’s Committee on Academic Freedom. Universities in those oil-rich Gulf states “are modern and engage in international partnerships. But it is in the context of particularly brutal repression of any forms of dissent,” both on and off campuses.
With the unfortunate obligation to a general lockdown, University eLearning courses became necessary. Students staying at home are offered jam-packed features courses with control over their speed, language, theme, and media. Moreover, interactive content ensures comprehension, and eBook takeaways support the application of learning at home as well as in the workplace. In this context, the story of the Pros and Cons of Online University Learning by Haifaa M. Mussallam is worth reading.
Online learning has been a rollercoaster of emotions for me since it was introduced in my senior year at Effat University, in Saudi Arabia. As an introvert, I found it both a blessing and curse. The online fall semester of 2020 was a learning experience for both professors and students, as typing on a laptop replaced notebooks and pens, and face-to-face interactions gave way to professors with headsets on our computers or phone screens.
I like the fact that students and teachers alike have been forced to adapt to the new normal, and I’d say both sides have been pleasantly surprised by how well everyone has been able to push through and learn the best we can, both with the curriculum and technology.
I was also pleasantly surprised how the quality of education remained the same. But I am lucky to be in a major, English Literature, that doesn’t require practical work like architecture, computer sciences, or engineering.
Still, I can confidently say that I have received the same quality of education I would have received on campus. And the transition to online learning went smoothly for me, thanks to the flexibility of being able to attend from wherever there is an Internet connection and being able to log into classes using a range of devices, such as a laptop or even a cellphone.
Moreover, the fact that lectures are recorded on the learning platform Blackboard Collaborate is an added bonus that I am certain many students are grateful for. Even if a student misses a lecture for one reason or other, all they have to do is replay the recorded session to catch up. This is a double-edged sword, however, because it can cause students to take fewer notes in real time and rely on the recordings.
New Technological Resources Are a Plus
Another added benefit of online learning is that new technological resources are being used to enhance learning, which in my opinion is long overdue.
Another added benefit of online learning is that new technological resources are being used to enhance learning, which in my opinion is long overdue. Prior to the pandemic, most students and faculty members depended on the old-fashioned way, using PowerPoint slides and submitting papers in person.
Although slides remain, platforms that were previously unheard of are now at the center of many teachers’ online curricula. One example is the digital educational platform BlinkLearning. Students are able to purchase books, open them via the platform’s website and do the homework assigned by their professors. I can personally attest to the effectiveness of the platform as I am using it myself this current semester to learn German.
A downside to online learning is the lack of face-to-face interactions, and not being physically on campus takes away from the typical college experience. Another negative aspect in Saudi Arabia is that some female students are too shy to turn on their cameras. This is understandable as lectures are recorded, but it does diminish opportunities for the professor to feel a genuine interaction with his or her students. (See a related article, “Universities in Qatar Help Students Stay Connected in a Remote-Learning World.”)
It cannot be denied that some aspects of college life were taken for granted by students and faculty members. I miss passing my classmates or professors in the hallways and giving them a nod or smile. Another downside, other than the lack of physical contact, is that due to the absence of facial expressions, professors tend not to take pauses for questions or discussions while giving lectures. The pandemic has taken away the possibility for spontaneous discussions in a virtual classroom, as both sides are looking at the finish line more than they would have on a physical campus.
Mixed Feelings About a Virtual Graduation
Being so close to my own finish line, with my graduation approaching in a few months, I am excited and disappointed. Any future graduate will surely experience a mix of emotions, but a virtual graduation causes its own surge of feelings, since YouTube is the center of the stage we will stand on, rather than the university’s auditorium.
Although no plans for graduation have yet been announced at my university, there is perhaps the off-chance that there will be a real physical graduation ceremony.
The university has sent emails about a graduation photoshoot to me and other future graduates, and some of my fellow classmates have participated, but I was not interested due to my lack of love for cameras.
Overall, the learning experience online has been a success and I am grateful for all the effort put in by my professors, the administration of universities across Saudi Arabia, the Ministry of Education, and information technology departments everywhere for making the connection between us all possible and stable.
Haifaa M. Mussallam is a 23-year-old published poet and almost a graduate in English literature from Effat University, in Jeddah.
Explore the most international universities in the world using data from the Times Higher Education World University Rankings
January 28 2021
Most international universities in the world
Prospective students looking to study in the most international environments in the world should apply to universities in Switzerland, Hong Kong, Singapore or the UK.
Universities, by their nature, are global institutions. Typically, they are home to communities of students and scholars from all over the world, and they tackle some of the globe’s most pressing problems through research.
This table, compiled using the international student score, international staff score, international co-authorship score and international reputation metrics collected for the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2021, shows that the above four countries are home to the some of the most international universities in the world.
These institutions all have a high proportion of international students and staff, collaborate on research with scholars from across the world, and have a strong global reputation to match. Read the full methodology at the bottom of the page.
Research suggests that diverse communities of students improve the teaching and learning experience, while opportunities for students to spend time abroad better prepare them to become global citizens.
The University of Hong Kong has embarked on a mission to become “Asia’s global university”, which includes the goal of giving all its undergraduates two opportunities to study outside Hong Kong during their degree by 2022.
Overall, this Hong Kong university has more than 30,000 students, of which more than 35 per cent are international.
Teaching at the institution is in English and education has an international focus, with the aim of preparing students to become global citizens who could be successful anywhere in the world.
It is no surprise that Switzerland is home to some of the most international universities in the world, given its situation in the heart of Europe, surrounded by France, Italy, Germany, Austria and Liechtenstein.
ETH Zurich is located in Switzerland’s largest city, Zurich, which is known for being very safe (although expensive). The main spoken language is Swiss German, but the university also offers courses in English.
The institution has more than 22,000 students from over 120 countries and is the top university in continental Europe.
The university focuses on teaching and research in the STEM subjects, and 21 Nobel prizes have been awarded to students and teachers connected to the institution. One of the most famous alumni is Albert Einstein.
The University of Oxford is not only the top university in the world, it also happens to be one of the most international.
Over a third of students at the University of Oxford are international students coming from 160 countries and territories. In fact, international students have been attending the University of Oxford for hundreds of years, with the first international student arriving way back in 1190.
Almost half of the staff at the university are also international and the institution has links with many other institutions worldwide.
Prospective international students can listen to the university’s International Students podcast, which talks you through academic and social aspects of being at Oxford.
The data in Times Higher Education’s ranking of The World’s Most International Universities 2021 are drawn largely from the “international outlook” pillar of the THE World University Rankings 2021. This takes into account a university’s proportions of international students, international staff and journal publications with at least one international co-author. Each of these elements is given equal weighting in calculating the score for this pillar.
The table adds a fourth component, which makes up 25 per cent of the total score: a university’s international reputation. This is a measure of the proportion of votes from outside the home country that the institution achieved in THE’s annual invitation-only Academic Reputation Survey, which asks leading scholars to name the world’s best universities for teaching and research in their field.
Only institutions that received at least 100 votes in the survey were eligible for inclusion. Universities must also receive at least 50 or at least 10 per cent of available domestic votes to be ranked.
Metrics and weightings:
• 25 per cent: proportion of international staff
• 25 per cent: proportion of international students
Young UAEU Scientist Publishes Ground-breaking Work To Curb Greenhouse Gas Emissions to perhaps try and alleviate all fossil fuel production and commerce’s vigorous pursuit as currently undertaken in the Gulf countries.
With global methane emissions reaching a record high of almost 600 million tonnes a year and expected to continue rising in the coming years, researchers at the United Arab Emirates University (UAEU) have taken action. Eyas Mahmoud, Assistant Professor in Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the university, is leading an attempt to design adsorbents that capture methane from the atmosphere to reduce the emissions. But the task at hand is not as straight-forward as one may think. There are many different adsorbents, each with its own unique combination of characteristics that determine its ability to reduce methane emissions. Prof. Mahmoud, therefore, set out to discover which adsorbents perform best for enhanced methane capture. Some of the adsorbents he is currently looking at are metal-organic frameworks – also known as MOFs. MOFs, which are compounds comprised of metal nodes coordinated to organic ligands, are a promising platform because their porosity can be adjusted and their chemistry can be tailored. “They can be designed in a variety of different ways to form three-dimensional structures tailored to methane adsorption,” Mahmoud says.
To date, he has demonstrated the best methane uptakes at 1 bar and 298 K, based on experiments that compared MOFs to carbonaceous materials, polymers and zeolites. The idea came about when Mahmoud’s original interest was triggered in methane storage for natural gas vehicles. He describes the pressures for such vehicles as extremely high – around 100 bar or more. But once the news hit that methane emissions were skyrocketing; he shifted his attention towards lower pressure applications. Although he initially focused on natural gas vehicles, this year, Prof. Mahmoud has redirected his attention towards global methane emissions. Mahmoud explains that MOFs hold more promise than other materials thanks to their higher adsorption capacity.
“It has never been done before,” he mentions. “The focus now is mostly on carbon dioxide, and you now see a lot of focus and a lot of developments being made on CO2 capture.” Methane is also a greenhouse gas, indeed it is considered 100 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Although the methane concentration used to be lower, it is currently rising at an alarming rate, which could pose a global threat in the future. This is especially important as methane was recently reported as starting to leak from the sea-bed. And with sea levels rising, the concern must be addressed imminently.
According to Mahmoud, who was recognised by the London Press as a Rosalind member, methane originates from a variety of sources, including the oil and natural gas industry, agriculture and farming. In the past year, it was reported that 300 tonnes of methane were released in Florida in the United States. An active leak of sea-bed methane was also discovered in Antarctica for the first time in 2020. “It’s mostly industrial sources, but there are other sources as well,” he explains.
Such events are a concern because if global warming continues, other parts of the seafloor may also begin to leak methane and microbes may not quickly move in to prevent methane from rising to the atmosphere.
Methane release is considered extremely problematic because it is a major greenhouse gas and a cause of global warming. As such, effective strategies to curb methane emissions are needed. As well as a global issue, the problem is considered to be a regional problem in the Gulf due to a number of natural gas reserves, including the UAE. But there is hope, as Mahmoud’s work has generated initial promising results that could have a positive environmental impact on the world.
His latest research was published in October in Applied Sciences, an open access journal with a rapidly growing impact factor.
Going forward, Mahmoud will attempt to tailor the MOFs’ structures – of which there are thousands. His aim is to understand which structures are considered optimal at such conditions. “We will develop what we term our quantitative SPRs that relate the structure of the MOF to the adsorption capacity and the adsorption kinetics that are important for good performance for this process,” he adds.
The work is timely, as there is currently a strong push to mitigate greenhouse gases and commercialise them to capture carbon dioxide. With technology for CO2 capture developing rapidly, and climate change impacting the environment at a rapidly increasing pace, Mahmoud’s advice is to make sure we become wary of other greenhouse gases such as methane to ensure successful atmospheric restoration.
Originally posted on ArabLit & ArabLit Quarterly: Back in 2018, our Algeria & Morocco Editor wrote about one of her favorite discoveries, Safia Ketou’s La Planète Mauve et Autres Nouvelles: By Nadia Ghanem In six years of rummaging through Algerian literature, Safia Ketou’s sci-fi story “The Mauve Planet” remains my favorite find. Born Zohra Rabhi in…
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