Interview conducted by:
Dr. Chafic Mokbel is Secretary General of UoB Research Council at the University of Balamand, Lebanon. As a professor with knowledge of MERID project and direct experience in the field of international research programmes, we asked him to share with us his ideas, hopes and critiques about the state of science diplomacy.
– According to the current situation, which are, in your opinion, the most significant challenges that science diplomacy faces?
Science diplomacy is set to cope with divides, and the difficulties it faces are inherently related to the divides or the differences that can exist at all levels. In my opinion, some of the most important challenges, resulting from major differences and facing science diplomacy, are presented hereafter:
- The research topic of interest. Globalisation has made global nearly every research topic of interest. This being said, the relative priorities may differ significantly from one context to another. Fortunately, mechanisms have been introduced in different research and academic development supporting programmes to consider the local relative priorities. H2020 and Erasmus+ programmes, for example, engage active dialogue with partner countries and experts in order to better respond to local needs/interests. They also offer the opportunity to partner institutions to manage projects. To better profit from such opportunities, an efficient and effective process to determine and update the local research priorities/needs is needed.
- The process for the management of research. The processes for the development of research activities have been extensively developed in the past decades. Although existing, this development did not follow the same pace in all countries, as well as the support for research. For instance, issues like relevance, innovation management, technology transfer and others have not been well tackled in some countries. A very important issue, especially concerning developing countries, is the transparency method to access research funds. Eventually, the development of research in partner countries is hugely, if not exclusively, dependent on the resources allocated in international programmes of science diplomacy. Personally, I believe that more balanced conditions would certainly help increasing the impact of science diplomacy.
- Research in the developing countries is mainly conducted within the higher education sector. This sector is characterised by an increasing teaching load due to the massive enrolment in universities. The increasing teaching load reinforces the divide between the higher education and the socio-economic development. The role of the universities is mainly teaching. On the contrary, in industrial countries, universities are often at the centre of socio-economic development. In my opinion, a better organisation of the whole higher education sector could lead to a more efficient education framework.
– Do you think that science diplomacy could have a proactive role for the topics of instability and migration?
Science diplomacy has a confirmed role in reducing the divides. For the same reason, it plays a positive role in stability and limiting migration. However, it is a topic that has to be managed with care, in order to maximize this positive impact without creating disappointments. If science diplomacy fails, there is an important risk of losing hope in local development, which would endanger the stability or at least increase the migration. Science diplomacy shall not be about the access to knowledge in a more globalised world than ever. It is a more critical topic, that is about the culture of change and the way to stay connected to the advancements in today’s world. The outcomes of science diplomacy in reducing instability and migration seem to depend on the chance of success that a minimal set of transparent processes and structures obtains in connecting highly qualified scientists to the local socio-economic development.
– Can you describe whether and how the MERID project has an impact on your activities?
I attended several MERID meetings that allowed me to better understand the H2020 processes. Moreover, I have understood in those meetings several other technical aspects in different domains. This helped me in promoting ideas, within my University and colleagues, which have kept my research activities relevant to the state of the art.
Since 2015, MERID project has been working to contribute to the development of science diplomacy, with a particular focus on the Middle East region, through the organization of webinars, regional events, dissemination of information, etc.., mainly addressing the issues of brain circulation and science diasporas.
MERID project includes 13 partners from 13 European and Middle East countries, coordinated by Euro-Mediterranean University EMUNI.