Yemen needs “200 times more” money allocated for scientific research [Archives:2007/1079/Reportage]

August 23 2007

By: Almigdad Dahesh Mojali
& Saddam Al-Ashmouri

Most countries give scientific research priority when allocating the national budget but in Yemen, scientific research is the last concern. Sana'a University has a budget of YR5 billion but only YR2 million is allocated for scientific research. “The budget of the scientific research is zero and I say zero because two million is zero when you compare it to five billion which is the budget of the university,” Dr. Ali Al-Ashwal, dean of the Faculty of Engineering at Sana'a University said.

[President Saleh last month directed the government to allocate YR100 million as a support for scientific research. This is a very small sum. We need two hundred times this amount to be able to provide the universities with laboratories, libraries, an electronic library and new references,” Dr. Ahmed Mohammed Al-Kebsi, vice rector of academic affairs for Sana'a University stated.

Dr. Mahmoud Shamsheer, vice dean of the Faculty of Languages at Sana'a University, expressed, ” The YR100 million that President Saleh allocated for scientific research equals only US$500,000. If you divide this sum between the nine Yemeni universities with their different faculties, you will find that it does nothing.”

Dr. Ali Al-Meri, vice dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Sana'a University, stated, “We hear in every meeting, every year and with the arrival of a new rector for the university that there will be a budget for scientific research but 'til now no budget has appeared for scientific research and researchers always finance themselves.” Al-Meri added, “The state, the Ministry of Higher Education e all believe in the importance of scientific research in developing the country but unfortunately what we always say is totally different from what we do.”

In the same context Dr. Shamsheer expressed, “There are many research fields. For instance, the researcher can research chronic diseases, the diseases in the hot areas, but such research needs much money, huge mechanisms, human resources, scientific resources, etc.” Dr. Shamsheer added, “We need $3 million annually at least to be distributed over faculties. This $3 million equals YR600 million and this sum can do something good for scientific research.”

If universities can not finance student research, the private sector should help. Sometime they do. “There is support from different authorities such as hospitals, medicine companies and that depends completely on the level of the relation between the financing authority and the student,” Dr. Al-Meri revealed.

But both teachers and students complain that the private sector does not contribute enough. Dr. Al-Kebsi posited that the private sector does not realize that it is an integral part of the society and therefore has to contribute to the country's development. “We want the private sector to change and to support the field of research concerned with disease prevention and protecting the environment,” he added.

Researchers in Yemeni universities face many difficulties but the financial problem always comes first. Hani Anees, 25, a graduate of engineering, complained, ” I graduated last year from the university and our graduating research project cost about YR200,000 and the faculty didn't supply us with any money. So, my three colleagues and I were compelled to share the cost of the research. We were doing practical work into how water could be pumped by air from ground level into the tanks in our homes. We got the highest marks for this.”

Dr. Shamsheer clarifies the funding situation: “For masters and doctoral students, if they are from a Yemeni university, they have scholarships from the university, so the university gives them per diem, transportation allowances, accommodation, money for printing and books.”

But for undergraduates it is different. Dr. Al-Ashwal said: “The research that students do before graduation isn't called research. We can consider it training because students just collect information from some books about a subject and bring their findings to us. Therefore, this research doesn't have any support.”

Lack of money is not the only worry for universities. Dr. Abdul Salam Mohammed Dalaq, Faculty of Medicine, stated, “In my opinion, the main obstacle for the researchers is the lack of financial support. But there are also other serious problems. There is a lack of an authority responsible for observing and evaluating research, and to make researchers choose the subjects that may serve the society. Another obstacle is the lack of supervisors specialized in precise scientific specializations. Furthermore, the absence of the participation of the private sector in supporting scientific research and the lack of modern references.”

Students agree: Al-Shara'abi says, “One of the limitations that researchers face is lack of knowledge regarding research methods that students have to study in order to facilitate the steps of their research. The main problem that all students face is the lack of financial support; some research costs much money such as research undertaken by students of the faculties of engineering and medicine he university has to support its students financially.”

And Yasser Ahmed Thabet, a medical laboratories researcher agrees: “In my opinion the most striking obstacle that we face is the absence of direction and evaluation from the beginning of writing research until the stage of discussing our research. Lack of training is another problem we always face in the way of scientific research and academic writing along with a complete absence of research mechanisms and laboratories, causing students to look for private laboratories to [perform] research.”

Nojoud Al-Shara'abi, Faculty of Pharmacy adds yet another problem: : The lack of new references is considered one of the most striking problems because what's there for us is old and inadequate, and if they are available, they are at very expensive prices.”

The lack of funding also limits where students go to do their research. Most research is executed in big cities, not in small cities or rural areas. Some students prefer not to go outside of big cities in order to avoid spending money. Others prefer not to venture to rural areas or to other cities because they are females. “In some research researchers do their research in their cities and prefer not to go to the rural areas due to two reasons. The first is that most of the students are girls and are unable to move to any distant places and to remain there for the duration of the research period. The second reason is the cost of transportation and accommodation becomes a heavy burden for them since they are still students and have no financial resources,” Dr. Al-Meri explained.

All this can result in doctors being under trained.

Dr. Dalaq explains, ” When the students of medicine graduate from the university they have weakness in scientific skills and this is attributed to many reasons. For example, the practical period that students spend during their study in the university isn't enough. Also, big reduction in the laboratory tools which are necessary for the students during the study and research periods. But we put a solution for this problem; a student has to work for five years after he graduates before announcing oneself as a doctor.”

Despite all these short comings, Dr. Al-Kibsi claims that scientists have been able to contribute much to Yemen's development: “When we come to talk about what the university has done for the society through scientific research, we look at the cadres in the public and private institutions, factories and corporations. All of them are the outputs of the university. The development that Yemen has witnessed in all fields is a result of the outputs of the university.”

But all agree that so much more could be achieved with more funding.