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Monday, 10 January 2022

How are we faring when it comes to academic research in Egypt?

What does the current academic research landscape look like in Egypt? Over the past several years, academic and scientific research output in Egypt has increasingly become a focus as our universities continue to lag behind international peers on global ranking systems. The Sisi administration has enacted some policies to support research output and innovation, including setting up an innovation fund. Currently, we have about 138k trained researchers in all academic disciplines and ranks across some 26 government-affiliated labs and research facilities throughout the country. Some EGP 4.5 bn have been designated for research grants in the government’s FY2021-2022 budget — marking an improvement from the EGP 3.8 bn allocated in the previous fiscal year.

Major sources of funding: Researchers, who include both PhD candidates and practicing professors, have traditionally relied on funding from the government’s annual budget or through private and foreign funding distributed by the government-affiliated Science, Technology & Innovation Funding Authority (STDF).

And how does that measure up to our peers? World Bank data suggests that Egypt ranks slightly above average in research allocations when compared to some of our international peers with a similar GDP makeup, and some of our regional peers as well. In Chile, for example, public expenditure on research and development accounted for some 0.36% of the country’s GDP, according to the nearest available World Bank and UNESCO figures from 2017, while in Vietnam, spending comprised some 0.53% of GDP. Arab states saw an average spending of 0.63% of GDP allocated towards research in 2017. That same year, Egypt is estimated to have spent 0.68% of its GDP on research and development, outpacing the regional average.

If we’re looking at raw data, things appear to be in pretty good shape: Egypt holds the 36th spot for total number of citable documents produced by researchers in the country, with some 253k published papers in the 25 years between 1996 and 2021, according to Scopus Data. When it comes to actual citations, which provide a much better indication of the quality and significance of these papers, Egypt ranks a little lower at 42nd overall with some 3 mn citations over the same period. Medical research papers comprised the single largest category of published papers in 2020 (some 9.2k) but only some 3.1k citations for these documents have been reported thus far.

Things aren't so bad when it comes to regional rankings either: Compared to regional peers, Egypt ranks 5th in terms of citations over the 25 year period, sitting above the likes of Qatar, Jordan, Kuwait and the UAE and below only Israel, Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia. In 2020 alone we saw some 38k citations for about 30.7k citable papers produced by Egyptian researchers, putting Egypt in 4th place in the Middle East and 30th overall in terms of citations.

Egyptian university rankings have been rising over the last four years mostly due to increased citations and more industry income. Egypt's universities are among the fastest-rising higher education institutions in the world out of all those tracked and ranked by the Times Higher Education, as we have previously noted, which places extra emphasis on research capabilities. Long-standing public institutions still perform much better than their private sector counterparts when it comes to academic research however.

As for innovation, there’s some evidence to suggest that our outputs are doing relatively well: Egypt ranks 94th out of 132 countries in the UN’s World Intellectual Property Organization’s (WIPO) 2021 Global Innovation Index (pdf), which measures countries’ innovation capabilities. On its own, this seems like a fairly low score, but breaking down the components that make up this ranking shows that when it comes to spending as a share of GDP and researchers’ knowledge and technology outputs, Egypt actually ranks quite well among comparable lower-middle income countries. The report makes note of better than anticipated performance in quality innovations relative to investments in the inputs that should make those innovations possible.

With these key indices in mind, it appears that academic research, particularly in the STEM fields, are performing relatively well compared to our income and regional peers, at least on paper. But there is also a general consensus that there is a significant amount of unfulfilled potential and that Egypt could be performing far better than it currently is in the academic research field.

In next week’s Blackboard, we will explore some of the challenges researchers face while conducting their studies and how a number of bottlenecks may be hindering larger strides from being made in academia.

Your top education stories for the week:

  • The Education Ministry plans to establish 35 new applied technology schools during the 2022-2023 school year, Masrawy reports.
  • More education spending in FY2022-2023: The state budget for next fiscal year is set to ramp up spending on education, primarily through the Decent Life initiative.
  • Applications open for Chinese postgrad scholarships: Mandarin speakers can apply until the end of March for grants to pursue postgraduate studies at 18 Chinese universities, according to a Higher Education Ministry statement.

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