Sudan: Building a Reputation
Sudan has lost many of its best scientific minds. According to the UNESCO Science Report: towards 2030, between 2002 and 2014 some 3,000 junior and senior researchers moved abroad for better jobs than they could find at home.
Mustafa El Tayeb, the president of The Future University since October 2010, has been investing his energy to halt this trend, trying to assemble scientific forces through financial incentives and improved facilities.
El Tayeb holds an engineering degree from St. Petersburg Mining Institute (Leningrad) and a masters degree and a PhD in geophysics from Bordeaux I University in France. He is a founding member of the Arab Academy of Sciences. Secretary-general of the Sudanese national Academy of Science and a corresponding member of the Royal Academy of Overseas Sciences, Belgium.
He joined UNESCO as a programme specialist (1981), and was appointed as the Chief of Section responsible for Arab States (1986). In 1996, he was appointed the director of the Division of Policy Analysis & Operations, with the task of building UNESCO's capacity in this area. He served at UNESCO until 2009.
The Future University is a privately run university based in Khartoum. As president, El Tayeb's goal is to make the University a highly competitive institution through international partnerships and scientific collaborations, with the long term goal of strengthen capacities of the country. Sudan in fact, is in the list of the 47 Least Developed Countries (LDCs) – countries that, according to the United Nations, exhibit the lowest indicators of socioeconomic development.
El Tayeb visited TWAS, the Inter Academy Partnership (IAP), and the University of Trieste during a recent visit to Italy. In an interview with TWAS staff writer Cristina Serra, he discussed the state of science in Sudan and his role in scientific initiatives. (The interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.)
You joined UNESCO in 1981 as a programme specialist in charge of the development of scientific research and higher education in the Arab region. What major goals did you accomplish?
My first responsibility was building research institutes in the area of oceanography and marine environment in the Arab States. During the first five years, we built many scientific institutions from scratch, in Iraq, Oman, Yemen, Libya, Qatar, Lebanon, Sudan, Morocco and Algeria. Thanks to these achievements, UNESCO asked me to further develop the local capacity-building in science and technology. Later, I was also given the responsibility to build the world's largest irrigation project: the Great Manmade River Project, a network of pipes that supplies underground water from the Sahara in Libya and transport it to the coastal cities and zones. We were responsible for the training of the human resources needed for construction, operation and maintenance. At one time we had 163 projects in operation worldwide.
May we say that these duties pushed you more decisively towards the field of science diplomacy?
Yes. A recent example of science diplomacy in action was a meeting that I organized between the Ethiopian, the Sudanese and the Egyptian academies of science to discuss the Millennium Dam (in Ethiopia), which was a matter of war and peace.
Another action was when the fundamentalist Islamic movement started, early in 1989-1992, in Algeria. At UNESCO, I started a huge movement of itinerant exhibitions and courses on the history of Islamic Science and Technology, to bring people back to sense and remind them that their future must be based on their glorious past, not on terror. We called this initiative "Back to the Future". We went on building the culture of peace, using science to bring people from Palestine and Israel together to set-up a joint Israeli-Palestine Science organization (IPSO).
The United States recently lifted trade sanctions against Sudan. How much have these sanctions damaged Sudanese science and technology?
When the US announced the removal of the sanctions upon Sudan, many people were happy, but in fact sanctions were not lifted completely. However, it was psychologically better, as this eased scientific and technological collaboration with respect to the past.
What is the current condition of Sudanese science, and of Sudanese women in science?
Although Sudan has lost its best brains and continues to suffer from a sustained brain-drain the country still has a critical mass to conduct research. However, the Gross Expenditure on R&D is very low. Recently, the Government adopted a new science policy that aims to reach 1% of GDP by 2030. We do have in Sudan a good number of women: chemists, biotechnologies, biologists, microbiologists. But the overall situation for science is not good. In Sudan there is not enough employment for scientists from inside and when available they are not well paid; the country is therefore, producing scientists and engineers for outside. We are exporting human resources. Politicians have neglected the production infrastructure, making Sudan’s economy an economy of services, restaurants, cafes, but leaving poor ground for sciences. So why do we train scientists? The answer is for Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries, where they go and find well-paid jobs. Luckily, a month ago, the government adopted a new science policy that aims to devote 1% of the GDP to R&D by 2030. This is good news.
How can TWAS and other scientific academies help Sudan to achieve better standards in science and technology?
TWAS can help, as it already did, by helping build respect for our scientific community, by spreading the notion that the scientific community must be independent, and that its views must be heard, even if not necessarily followed.
In the beginning, (TWAS founding Executive Director) Mohamed Hassan and TWAS helped to clarify what a scientific academy is. At that time, even the Minister of Science and Technology did not understands what an academy should be. Building relationships with the scientific community of neighbouring countries is another important aspect, and through the contacts with IAP our academy is linking itself to other institutions. We have very good collaborations with science academies in Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda.
You are the president of The Future University: what kind of university is it?
The Future University is a private international institution with some 3,000 students. It is not a conventional university where science and technology is taught. Rather, it is a technology-oriented institute that acts as a sort of link with the industry. We aim at being international: our board is composed 50% of Sudanese members and 50% of non-Sudanese. We have international teaching staff from Italy, Philippines, France, India, Iraq and Syria. We have recently signed an MoU with the University of Trieste, in the city where TWAS has its headquarters. We give 15-20 scholarships every year free for all African students. Fees from paying students are used to establish programmes, buy equipment and pay the international staff. We partner with other academies in organizing workshops, and in providing scientists with all the facilities they need. We don't have social studies, as we offer courses in engineering, technology, architecture and so on. Our problem: we have only 27% of women among our students. Now I'm looking a way to encourage young women to go to science. We are working to build ourselves a reputation.
About the Future University
The Future University in Khartoum, Sudan, is a private, higher learning, technology-driven institute, and a leading academic institution in the region in information and communication technology. The university was founded in 1990 under the name of Computer Man College. In 2010, the Sudanese Parliament gave the college full university status. The university is "dedicated to the development of responsible intellectuals who are empowered, technologically equipped, life-long learners and morally upright to face the challenges of the dynamic world."
Its Board of Trustees is highly international, including as honorary members Madam Francine Cousteau, chairperson of Cousteau Society, Paris, France; Dr. Bruce Alberts, president emeritus of the US National Academy of Sciences and H.E. Madam Azeb Mesfin, the first lady of the Republic of Ethiopia.
The board also includes; Professor Adnan Badran, the founding president of Yarmouk University, Jordan; Professor Abdul Hamid Zakri, science adviser to the Prime Minister of Malaysia; Prof. Alec Boksenberg, Cambridge University and many others.