Revised policy may herald new dawn for Sudanese science
Sudan’s new Science, Technology and Innovation Policy is the culmination of a presidential initiative launched in 2008, with support from UNESCO. There are hopes in the scientific community that this policy may herald a new beginning for research in Sudan.
The policy’s first strategic objective is to ‘build a knowledge society by integrating science, technology and innovation into the policies of national development and the programmes of socio-economic reform’. The popularization of science and the diffusion of a science culture in the wider population comes second on the list of strategic objectives.
Another key policy objective is to etablish a Council for the Development of Scientific Research, Technology and Innovation – or rather, to resuscitate it, since a similar council existed from 1971 until 2009.
A revived science council and a boost to research funding
The new policy fixes the target of boosting research funding (R&D) from the current 0.2% of GDP to 2% of GDP by 2030; a Fund for Scientific Research is to be established for the purpose. Another funding measure introduces an obligation to include provisions for financing research projects in applications for loans and external grants. The government has since raised research funding by 30% for the 2018/2019 fiscal year.
The Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research (MoHESR) has been designated the governing body for science until the Council for the Development of Scientific Research, Technology and Innovation becomes operational. It has, thus, fallen to MoHESR to prepare a roadmap for implementing the new policy. Since July 2017, MoHESR has drafted bills for the establishment of the Council and the Fund for Scientific Research before submitting these bills to the Ministry of Justice for onward transmission to Parliament.
To enable technology foresight and proper needs assessment in this area, the policy foresees the establishment of a National Observatory of Science, Technology and Innovation to foster the collection and analysis of statistics in these areas. MoHESR has since established this observatory with assistance from the Egyptian observatory, which itself dates from 2014.
A focus on the Sustainable Development Goals
The new policy focuses on reaching the country’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 and on deploying scientific research to alleviate poverty.
In particular, it targets those SDGs dealing with basic sciences, water resources, renewable energy and the application of modern technologies, including in the fields of biotechnology, nanotechnologies and the contribution that space science and technology can make to research on climate change.
Potential areas for international collaboration
Currently, the Sudanese economy is oriented primarily towards services. According to the UNESCO Science Report, they accounted for 50% of GDP in 2013. Industry contributes a further 22%, including 8% of GDP from manufacturing. In 2012, just 0.7% of manufactured exports could be categorized as high-tech products.
The remainder of GDP (28%) comes from agriculture. The UNESCO Science Report recounts how, when the Sudanese Minister of Science and Communication visited South Africa in March 2015, four months after signing a bilateral agreement for cooperation, he identified space science and agriculture as priority areas for collaboration.
These two areas have also been identified as strategic areas for cooperation in the Arab Strategy for Science, Technology and Innovation, endorsed by Arab ministers in 2014. There are other points of convergence between Sudan’s new science policy and the Arab Strategy. The latter advocates cooperation to develop and manage water resources, for instance, and in applications of nanotechnology in health, the food industry and environment.
The Arab Strategy also identifies the development of renewable energy as a strategic area for cooperation, The UNESCO Science Report recalls that Morocco is a leader in hydropower and that both Morocco and Sudan are currently the main users of biomass. The report also cites the experience of Algeria, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia in developing solar energy and of Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia in developing wind energy. A growing number of Arab countries are striving to develop knowledge economies.
There are also obvious areas of convergence between Sudan’s new policy and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation’s Science, Technology and Innovation Agenda to 2026, adopted in September last year.
A national programme to improve science education
Sudan’s new Science, Technology and Innovation Policy calls for the development of human resources in various fields of science and engineering, with emphasis on basic sciences, through a special programme designed to support the teaching of science and foreign languages in general and higher education.
Since July 2017, the Ministry of General Education has begun implementing this policy by initiating a national programme to improve science education, in close collaboration with the National Academy of Sciences and the Parliamentary Committee for Education and Scientific Research.
Staunching the loss of young talent
Despite the creation of the Academy of Sciences in 2006, Sudan has struggled to consolidate its science system over the past decade’, according to the UNESCO Science Report. ‘One impediment is the loss of young talent to brain drain: between 2002 and 2014, Sudan lost more than 3 000 junior and senior researchers to migration, according to the National Research Centre and Jalal (2014), who were drawn to neighbouring countries by the better pay’.
The UNESCO Science Report recalls that ‘Sudan had one of the lowest levels of GDP per capita in the Arab world in 2013, at $3 372 (in purchasing parity dollars), despite modest growth in this indicator over the previous five years’. Sudan’s ‘economy proved resilient to the global financial and economic crisis of 2008-2009, as local capital markets are not directly linked to global markets’, but the birth of South Sudan in 2011 and subsequent skirmishes between the two countries caused Sudan’s economy to slump in 2012.
According to the National Research Centre, Sudan counted 19 researchers (in full-time equivalents) per million inhabitants in 2013, close to the average for sub-Saharan Africa but low by Arab standards. Scientific output is equally modest, with just eight publications per million inhabitants recorded by Thomson Reuters’ Web of Science (Science Citation Index Expanded). Of note is that Sudanese scientists have the third-highest citation rate in the Arab world.
Although it suffers from brain drain, Sudan has also become a refuge for students from the Arab world since the turmoil of the Arab Spring and is attracting a growing number of students from Africa.
Sudan also counts the highest proportion of women researchers employed in the business enterprise sector of any Arab country: 40% of employees. Women play a fairly strong role in Sudan’s research system: they accounted for 42% of university graduates in natural sciences in 2013, 32% of those in engineering, 65% of graduates in agricultural sciences and 67% of those in health and welfare.
Sudan’s third science policy
The new science policy is Sudan’s third. The first was formulated in 1973 with support from UNESCO. A second policy was launched in 1982 with the declared vision of ‘building a science-based state’.
A third draft policy document was elaborated in 2003 by the Ministry of Science and Technology with technical assistance from UNESCO and the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (ALECSO). This policy could not be approved after the ministry was abolished and the portfolio of scientific research was handed first to the Ministry of Science and Telecommunications then to the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research.
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