Egyptian Minister Abdel Ghaffar: There is ‘will’ to rescue scientific research

Sunday 09/04/2017
Khaled Abdel Ghaffar, Egypt’s new Higher Education minister speaking during an interview with The Arab Weekly. (Hassan Abdel Zaher)

Cairo - Khaled Abdel Ghaffar, Egypt’s new Higher Education minister, said he has a plan to stop Egypt’s brain drain, rescue scientific research and put local universities on the international academic map.
“We need to know that scientific research and academic standards in our country took steps backward in the past decades because there was not the necessary political will to support them,” Abdel Ghaffer said. “But this will is present now with the government specifying more funds for research.”
Abdel Ghaffar is a renowned dentistry professor who revolutionised educational standards at the College of Dentistry of Ain Shams University when he became dean in 2014 by introducing modern technology and educational methods. He took over the Higher Education and Scientific Research portfolio in February this year.
He said his plan would depend on changing legislation that hampers advancement of scientific research, closely monitoring the implementation of academic reform plans and best marketing scientific research findings to prevent them from gathering dust in the drawers of scientific research centres for years.
“We will launch what are known as technological incubators to offer the necessary boost to research and promising researchers,” he said. “We will also establish links between research centres and industrial institutions.”
Whether he will succeed in achieving these goals is uncertain but Abdel Ghaffar seems to know what Egypt needs most: To build economic development on home-grown scientific research and rescue local researchers from tough conditions.
Egyptian universities, including some founded even before some countries of the region, fail to make lists of the world’s top universities. Scientists leave the country and join universities and scientific research institutions abroad for better opportunities to continue their scientific future and research.
Sherif Salah, a clinical immunology scientist, left Egypt years ago because of a lack of opportunities to achieve scientific excellence.
“Scientists do not even find the basics for making research here,” Salah said. “The atmosphere is so frustrating that those who stay have to forget about their scientific dreams.”
A few years ago, Salah was awarded gold medals in Switzerland, Italy and Romania for inventing medicines for the treatment of hepatitis C, hepatitis B and liver cancer.
He said he would never have had such success had he stayed in Egypt.
Hussein Khaled, a former higher education and scientific research minister, said Abdel Ghaffar and his ministry staff face a tough challenge in resuscitating the country’s scientific institutions, which are considered graveyards for scientific innovation.
“Challenges to scientific research here are many,” said Khaled, an oncology professor. “The scientific research environment itself is baffling and frustrating to researchers.”
He said the first step to encouraging research would be for the government to provide more funding.
In the 2016-17 budget, the government earmarked a little more than $1 billion for scientific research.
While this is a fraction of what is needed to meet the needs of research centres and help researchers maintain their work, the budget is almost double what was allocated to scientific research in previous years.
Abdel Ghaffar also plans to get Egypt’s business community more involved in scientific research. He said he would convince businesspeople to support research and the work of the country’s academic institutions because this, he said, would also serve their businesses.
“In some countries, the business community contributes 70% of funds needed by research institutions,” Abdel Ghaffar said. “Some of the country’s businessmen donate tens of millions of pounds for academic institutions already, which means that there [is] awareness about the importance of the role the business community can play…
“We need this role to grow bigger because advancing scientific research is too huge a mission for governments alone to carry out.”