Economy, Sci & Tech

German Academic Institutions Look to Tap Iran's Scientific Pool

Iranian researchers have suffered in recent years from sanctions choking the country’s research industryIranian researchers have suffered in recent years from sanctions choking the country’s research industry

Iran's scientific research is well known in the international community, often surprising foreign academia on the scale of topics currently being researched, however, problems persist hampering the country's ranking when it comes to global contribution.

Germany's Robert Bosch Foundation on a recent trip to Tehran looked at the prospects of collaborating with Iranian scientists for future joint projects.

Ever since Iran agreed to limit its nuclear program in favor of the removal of punitive sanctions, foreign businesses and academic institutions alike have begun to explore the country's vast untapped potential.

As the Germany's Handelsblatt Global reports, Iran is an attractive proposition on the international stage – not only for trade but also for science.

According to an overview of joint development and trade, German research funders are now aware of the country's growing pool of international-grade scientists eager to work with foreign companies and institutions to raise their own profile and areas of research.

The Max Planck Society and the Fraunhofer Society have already sent representatives to Iran, while the German Academic Exchange Service, a support organization for international academic cooperation, opened an office in Tehran in 2014.

Meanwhile, the Robert Bosch Foundation – a German private charity working to support natural and social sciences on the international level – visited Tehran earlier in April to meet with potential partners and look for joint research deals for Germany.

The organization's director, Joachim Rogall, said he sees Iran as an opportunity considering the recent political developments in the United Kingdom, vis-à-vis Brexit and the election of Donald Trump in the US.  

“Cooperation with the United States and Great Britain will become more difficult. Now we want to attract the best minds,” he noted. Adding the two developments could change the place of Germany in science research terms.

Sharif University First Stop  

While visiting Iran for two days, the foundation, met with four universities, the Ministry of Science and the Vice-Presidency for Science and Technology, the Tehran Chamber of Commerce and the Iranian Venture Capital Association.

Among the universities visited by the group, Sharif University was the first stop, where according to the German report the foreign group met with 10 professors. Many studied at renowned universities in the US or Canada while two worked at Max Planck-supported institutes in Germany.

Many of the researchers recognized topics such as cloud computing, the internet of things, big data, mobile government, and tissue engineering as the big changes coming in the global tech world.

However, Iranian researchers have suffered in recent years from sanctions choking the country's research industry, several studies were mothballed due to issues of parts and research cooperation being halted. However, some advances have been made in recent years including the growth of nano technology and oil and gas research.

As a result, the country invested in its human capital and promoted science and research – a unique approach in the region, and one that led to a surge in scientific activity.

In the field of nanotechnology, published research document researcher numbers rocketed from around 600 in 2003 to an estimated 20,000 today. The boom was made possible by a government funding program.

Similar initiatives are planned in biotechnology, according to the Vice-Presidency for Science and Technology.

But for all this, there are signs that Iranian research lacks quality and originality. Iran ranks 34th globally on citations per scientific article. And while Iran produces large quantities of research papers, the number actually converted into patents is declining, indicating a lack of innovation.

Only with the development of the industry in part with the growth of joint research projects with foreign actors will the ranking for the country improve.

However, part of the problem afflicting the country's research prowess is the ongoing brain-drain. Research organizations from Europe and the US continue to poach the best and the brightest with large research grants.

The government in Tehran in recent years has begun to accept this is an inevitable consequence of having a large group of scientists working in a limited arena. However, joint projects with German and other institutions should go some way to alleviate the problem if they invest in Iran.

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