UNESCO and the Iraqi government launched an initiative in December to help rebuild the country’s intellectual infrastructure and begin the transition towards a knowledge-based economy via the development of a science, technology and innovation (STI) policy.
A joint effort between the Central Government, the Kurdish Regional Government and UNESCO, the scheme benefits from financial support from the Japanese government of about US$212,000. Since the initiative was announced in December, the UNESCO Office for Iraq has been working closely with the government to set up a national task force.
One of its first tasks will be to pilot a comprehensive assessment of research infrastructure across the country. The task force will be comprised of national and international government experts, scientists, academics and entrepreneurs. They will be called upon to articulate policy priorities over a 12-month period within a consultation intended to foster a national dialogue on ways in which science, technology and innovation can spur economic growth and improve the quality of life in Iraq.
The task force will examine mechanisms for encouraging technology transfer and private sector engagement, identifying the needs of researchers and innovators, channelling funding in line with regional and local priorities and so on. Once policy priorities have been identified, the programme will then draw up a comprehensive national STI policy.
Government priorities for research over the next four years have already been outlined in the Ministry of Planning’s five-year plan. These fall into five broad categories: capacity-building, information technology, agriculture, environment and water resources, and renewable energy.
Once an engine of innovation in the Middle East, Iraq is sorely dependent on imported technology today, after years of isolation and conflict. There are modest signs of recovery, however. Iraqi scientists authored 55 scientific papers in 2000 but 184 in 2008, according to the UNESCO Science Report 2010, mostly in clinical medicine. The share of papers authored within international collaboration also grew, from 27% to 45%.