Syrian Expatriate Research Conference (SERC): An Opportunity to Help!

For five consequent years, the Higher Commission for Scientific Research (HCSR) has held the Syrian Expatriate Researcher Conference (SERC) starting in 2019, with slogan “Toward a Syrian knowledge-based economy”. This event is where Syrian Researchers from all over the world meet physically or virtually to discuss science and propose different ways to develop productive and service sectors in Syria contributing to rebuilding. This year, the sixth version of SERC will be held in Damascus between 29 and 31 July 2024. Since 2019, SERC has turned into an annual scientific forum where close to 100 expatriate Syrian researchers from over 25 countries meet and discuss science with hundreds of their counterparts who work at Syrian universities and research centers, exchanging ideas and expertise in multidisciplinary sessions and topics, and shedding light onto novel advancement in frontier technologies including nanotechnology, biotechnology, ICT, artificial intelligence, renewable energy, environment, construction, etc. SERC also underscored the eagerness of Syrian expatriate researchers to offer the knowledge they have to help repair the severely damaged infrastructure and contribute to the urgent need for the rebuilding of Syria. In fact, SERC is an opportunity for both Syrian officials as well as researchers abroad. The former should provide whatever it takes to facilitate the return of those Syrian intellectuals back home, or at least guarantee their sustainable contribution to the advancement of science in Syria. The latter though, including thousands of researchers and scientists who left Syria before and after the crisis, should continue to support regardless of their political, social, or economical stand … for both parties, it is an opportunity to help and preserve pride and dignity!  

Building An Integrated System For Knowledge & Technology Transfer In Syria

The importance of investing in knowledge is particularly evident in countries whose natural resources have been depleted because of many reasons. The role of the intellectual capital it possesses is clear, capable of compensating for these material losses through its knowledge products. This clearly applies to the Syrian situation, after more than a decade of military, political and economic wars. It is self-evident that investing in knowledge leads to improvements in technology, efficiency, productivity and economic growth, and paves the way for knowledge transformation in various sectors of the country through research, scientific development and innovation activities. I will here highlight once again the importance of knowledge and technology transfer system that the higher Commission for Scientific Research (HCSR) recently led the work to establish. The system consists of three components; the first component is the technology transfer offices at universities and research centers. Its main short-term goal is to evaluate research outputs completed at research institutions in terms of their applicability and economic feasibility and stimulate the protection of their intellectual property in coordination with the concerned parties. The second component includes R&D departments at state ministries, and later at affiliated or associated companies and business sector institutions. Its main goal is to review the needs for developing production and service sectors and stimulate the conduct of research that meets those needs. Finally, the two previous components are coordinated by a third component represented by the National Office for Technology Transfer NTTO established at HCSR, which links the entities that generate and invest in knowledge. In fact, the past three months have witnessed a number of activities closely related to the technology transfer system. The most important of which was the workshop organized by HCSR to launch the newly established R&D departments in a number of state ministries. This indeed completed the components of the technology transfer system, the first pillar of which was laid down by HCSR in cooperation with the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) in a unique report published back in 2020. In addition, NTTO held two important workshops in cooperation with the Universities of Aleppo and Tishreen on enhancing the investment of the research outputs of university professors and postgraduate students at both universities. The two workshops were accompanied by two exhibitions that included a large number of research outputs in the presence of business sector representatives. HCSR will coordinate to organize similar workshops at various other universities. Because we do not ignore the saying: “Happy endings start with new beginnings”, HCSR recently launched the“Researcher’s Guide to Conducting Developmental Scientific Research”. This guide leads researchers and walks with them step by step in conducting their research, starting from choosing the research idea, passing through the initial plan for the research, and arriving at to its primary document, with a self-evaluation form to measure its importance for development. During its last meeting, The National Technology Transfer Committee NTTC formed at HCSR also approved the report entitled “Guiding Procedures for Protecting and Investing Scientific Research Outputs,” which guides researchers through multiple paths to enhance the investment of their research outputs. We do hope that this recently established technology transfer system will be effective in translating the knowledge enhanced at Syrian universities and research centers into products and outputs that aid in the eagerly needed development.

Investing In Syrian National Intellectual Capital: A Must!

For many decades, the majority of Arab countries relied mainly on natural resources as their economy-driving engine, being rather late in adapting policies and practices promoting knowledge-based economies, and have a limited industrial base. Today however, it is quite obvious that leading states are those whose decision-making hubs have intensively invested in their national intellectual capita, promoting knowledge and technology transfer; enhancing training, R&D, and innovation activities. This is extremely crucial, as both local and global markets are prone to rapid technological changes, demanding academics and researchers with elevated level of expertise and highly skilled labor force. Explicitly, the contemporary development of a state is determined not by scaling up the use of its natural resources but by endorsing intangible human capital as the basis for continuous development of technologies and innovation.

Human capital is defined as the knowledge, education and competencies of individuals in realizing national tasks and goals. The human capital of a nation originates with the intellectual wealth of its citizens, usually measured by National Intellectual Capital Index (NICI). Even though policy makers sometimes find it hard to make the case for human capital investments due to lack of quick returns, there is rather a unified understanding about the importance of knowledge as a source of economic competitiveness.

Compared to many Arab countries, the situation is far more complicated in Syria after approximately twelve years of war and conflict, where natural resources became scarce and manufactured good exports,  reflected in gross domestic product (GDP), drastically declined. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic, the Russian-Ukrainian conflict that started in 2022, and finally the recent earthquake that hit Syria and Turkey last February, all severely augmented the conflict consequences.

Nevertheless, and since 1950s, Syria has been known for highly educated graduates in both engineering and life sciences who contributed to science advancement in Syria and the region. Additionally, Syrian expatriate medical doctors, researchers and engineers gained respectable reputation for their service and academic contributions all over the world. In fact, during the last two decades, Syria sent abroad thousands of academic envoys to support the Syrian academic and research ecosystem upon their return. Unfortunately, very few of them returned home due to circumstances enforced by the recent conflict and the deterioration of the Syrian economy. Taken together, Syria has a good opportunity to benefit from its national human capita if solid and serious steps are taken and followed up.

On one hand, reforms on education and training policies should be accomplished to raise national standards of knowledge and skill transfer among Syrian youth and university postgraduate students and researchers. This should be accompanied by boosting technology transfer activities via intermediaries such as the National Technology Transfer Office NTTO (hosted by the Higher Commission for Scientific Research, HCSR) and other institutional TTOs at both public and private Syrian universities and research centers. On the other hand, the Syrian government officials and decision-makers are requested to find the proper channels to communicate with Syrian expats and benefit from the knowledge and expertise they gain while living in foreign countries. The Syrian Expatriate Research Conference (SERC), which is organized annually by HCSR, is one tool to achieve fruitful interactions among Syrian researchers at home and abroad. Another two relevant ways include preparing a national strategy and roadmap for enhancing cooperation and coordination with Syrian expat researchers, and creating incentive programs similar to international programs such as  the “Chinese Academy of Science’s 100 Talents Program”.

For countries like Syria, taking into account the dwindle in natural resources and the shrink in national economy, investing in intellectual human capita should be listed among the highest Syrian government priorities … it is a MUST.

For These Reasons, Both Public And Private Sectors Should Prioritize The Support For R&D During A Post War Era In Syria?

Over a decade of war, unprecedented drought, COVID-19 pandemic, inflation, and recent earthquake, all made Syria’s economy struggle to stabilize and grow, while many Syrians are exploring options to cope and maintain basic needs such as electricity, irrigation and clean water. Lessons from countries around the globe tell us a lot. In fact, the boost of R&D in countries like Germany and Japan was basically initiated right after cannons became silent. During WWII, the United States Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD) greatly enriched public investments in applied R&D, where thousands of contracts between firms and universities were signed to perform research essential to the war and post-war efforts. The Islamic Republic of Iran is another interesting example. While the country is under intense sanctions, revenues from R&D activities in the past few years constituted a major share of the country’s GDP.

Opening ceremony for the Fourth Syrian Expatriate Researchers Conference (SERC), 2022.

Investing in R&D activities is a prerequisite to speed up recovery and economic growth.
Current indicators in Syria show that R&D spending constituted only 0.02% of the country’s GDP in 2015, compared to 0.72 average in the Arab countries, 0.88% in Iran, 1.1% in Russia, 1.09% in Turkey, and 2.63% world average.
We seriously need to enhance spending on R&D in Syria and establish the correct and operational enabling R&D ecosystem for the following reasons: 1) R&D is the important driver of economic growth in the third millennium; 2) R&D might lead to innovative solutions to non-traditional challenges Syria faces; 3) Many local experts and skilled personnel could be attracted to R&D activities, which might mitigate their continuous migration out of the country; 4) without sustained R&D activities, Syrian goods will certainly loose competitiveness in local and global markets; 5) Due to war, Syria has lost a major fraction of the countries natural resources. This is why a gradual transform into a knowledge-based economy, which usually heavily relies on R&D, is badly needed.
The bottom line, R&D is suitable to all times, all situations, and more essential and worthy in the time of war than in the time of rest and peace.

AlBasel Fair for Creativity & Invention 2019.

About The Journal

Journal:Syrian Journal for Science and Innovation
Abbreviation: SJSI
Publisher: Higher Commission for Scientific Research
Address of Publisher: Syria – Damascus – Seven Square
ISSN – Online: 2959-8591
Publishing Frequency: Quartal
Launched Year: 2023
This journal is licensed under a: Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Creative Commons License