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Science fund aims to boost research in needed fields

By Dana Al Emam - Feb 18,2013 - Last updated at Feb 18,2013

AMMAN — The Scientific Research Support Fund (SRSF), which operates under the umbrella of the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, encourages the development of knowledge in Jordan by supporting outstanding scientists working to solve problems of national importance.

“During the past four years, the fund spent approximately JD14 million on 189 funded projects,” SRSF Director General Abdallah Al-Zoubi said in a recent interview with The Jordan Times.

Researchers who apply to the fund must submit a detailed proposal, which is evaluated by at least three specialised reviewers, then by several committees. The final decision whether to approve or reject the application is taken by the fund’s board of directors.

The SRSF supports projects in basic science as well as applied fields such as engineering, nano- and bio-technology, energy, water, environment, telecommunications and information technology, and medical, pharmaceutical, agricultural and veterinary sciences.

It also funds research in the humanities and social sciences such as economics, Al-Zoubi said.

“Most funding proposals we receive are for agricultural research,” he noted.

“We encourage researchers to put more effort into conducting research that suggests solutions to Jordan’s most critical issues: energy and water,” he added.

Moreover, the fund gives students the opportunity to complete their graduate studies in Jordan.

“So far the fund has provided students with 250 MA and 32 PhD scientific excellence scholarships, which cost the SRSF around JD3 million,” Al-Zoubi said.

“This academic year we are granting 60 masters and PhD scholarships.”

Scholars of sufficient merit can receive post-doctoral grants through the SRSF, which allow them to spend one academic year at a prestigious university or scientific institution abroad.

Al-Zoubi said the fund also supported scientific institutions in the Kingdom.

“The fund supported the establishment of the Stem Cell Centre at the University of Jordan (UJ), where researchers and scientists work to produce human skin and cornea cells,” he said.

“The fund will also support 20 internationally accredited scientific journals at Jordanian universities with more than JD600,000 starting from 2013.”

Science culture

Two local scientists, however, argued that funding is not the main problem hindering the development of research in Jordan.

Mohammad Al Nimer, a mechanical engineering professor at the Jordan University of Science and Technology who is currently working at the Royal Scientific Society, said Jordanians were not brought up in a “culture of science”.

“Families should teach their children how to read multiple sources and write what they understand without plagiarising, in addition to documenting the references they use,” he told The Jordan Times over the phone.

He also argued that research should focus more on industrial applications.

“Scientific research should be conducted to answer questions that industrial firms raise. For example, in Jordan we don’t manufacture cars; we only do maintenance work on imported cars. This means that we don’t conduct research on improving the performance of car engines,” Nimer said.

The researcher, who has published 247 articles on energy and heat transfer and has received more than 12 local, regional and international awards, added that most researchers in Jordan face difficulties in forming a team of PhD students who share the same concentration.

“The Kingdom should also attract researchers working abroad temporarily or permanently,” he said.

Ridha Khawaldeh, vice president of scientific faculties at the University of Jordan and a professor in its department of horticulture and crop science, said good researchers could always find ways to fund their projects.

“The problem is not financial, since there are many institutions in Jordan that provide financial support for research projects,” Khawaldeh told The Jordan Times in a phone interview.

The plant biotechnology and biodiversity specialist said the main challenge for researchers in the Kingdom was a lack of appreciation for science.

“In our part of the world the public appreciates people with political positions more that researchers. More appreciation will encourage researchers further,” he said.

Khawaldeh also stressed the importance of using science to guide public policy.

“Decision makers should trust researchers and rely on their scientific opinions concerning local issues,” he said.

While the media are paying more attention to science than they used to 20 years ago, and while schools and universities have begun to focus more heavily on research, science remains underappreciated, Khawaldeh said.

Sometimes, he added, the scholars themselves are to blame.

“A percentage of researchers work for the sake of promotion, and after they get promoted they don’t do research anymore.” 

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