[AMMAN] Jordan has been chosen to be the 'brain' of an Arab science network that, it is hoped, will get scientists across seven countries talking and collaborating with each other.
The country will become the hub of new regional science collaborations and the launchpad for projects to get research institutes within countries much better connected through broadband Internet.
Jordan's role was announced in the first annual meeting of the Arab States Research and Education Network (ASREN) in Amman last month (12–14 December).
Talal Abu-Ghazaleh, chairman of ASREN, said that the Internet and associated 'e-infrastructures' were key to getting scientists across the network working together.
Scientists and educational institutes within many countries are linked up via specialised and powerful private networks that are tailored to the needs of scientific projects. These National Research and Education Networks (NRENs) can then be linked together into regional entities.
Yousef Torman, executive director of the Jordanian Universities Network, told SciDev.Net that Jordan would also become a physical meeting point for researchers and academics from the Arab region, and a place where Arab researchers could meet foreign scientists and research funders.
He added that the better connectivity between researchers offered by the network will also reduce the costs of research by sharing resources and reducing duplication.
Salem Alagtash, the ASREN chairman's senior advisor information and communication technology, said that the individual governments were backing the initiative and that ASREN was playing a fundamental role in strengthening — and in some cases helping to establish — the national networks that together make up ASREN.
For example, ASREN helped Lebanon to build its NREN, which became operational last year (24October).
The Amman conference also called for the acceleration of the third phase of the EUMEDCONNECT project which connects nations' research and education networks. The first and second phases of EUMEDCONNECT, which began in 2004, concentrated on linking Mediterranean researchers with their European counterparts, with the third phase extending this connectivity to Arab countries.
Maha Tutunji, professor of analytical chemistry at the University Of Jordan, told SciDev.Net that networks such as ASREN should "help research to flourish in our region".
But she added that policymakers should make sure that the research subjects addressed through the network are useful for their own countries, rather than dictated by supra-national agendas.
ASREN's member countries are Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Palestine, Syria and Tunisia. The initiative was launched in December 2010 under the patronage of the League of Arab States, the Talal Abu-Ghazaleh Organization and the UN Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN-GAID).